THE DOG BLOG
Lovers of Travel
A monthly blog to be read from Top to Bottom
Because of a unique arrangement with the co-publisher of Cairo Cats, I'm able to sell copies via my own website for a larger profit than through Amazon or other sources where I receive only a meagre stipend.
Thank you so much for ordering from
which is providing the majority of my income while I finish my next book,
On a Mission from Dog.
Many books are written about the huge fluctuations in mood that occur when moving to a new country. The initial euphoria is termed, 'The Honeymoon Phase' and studies have shown alternating and quite predictable highs and lows based on the length of time the person is expecting to live in the host country. This is normal. Adopting cultural traits of the host country can also be expected. For further information on living abroad, see www.TransitionsAbroad.com.
May 1, 2006
Another great writing day for my book.
May 2, 2006
I've been writing well and sleeping well for a week. Everything flows.
In the late afternoon seagulls are everywhere which signals there's sardines in abundance, which can then be used as bait for bigger fish. Taking advantage of this, many of the fisherman are standing waist deep in water with lines. Not fishing poles, just lines with bait attached. Flores is amongst them. She returns to shore again and again with one catch after another while the men stand hoping for a bite.
There's one other woman out in the water who's name is Sarah. I've lent her my snorkel previously. I've never seen anyone love being in the water than she. She doesn't swim, she plays and plays and plays. I want to join them. But I don't have on my bathing suit. Neither do they. The women in the village don't wear bathing suits, choosing instead to go in wearing shorts and top. It's a leap I don't seem able to take. I've been taking pictures and use having a camera with me as an excuse not to go in. But it's a lie. I go in, get the bottom of my shorts wet and come out again. It feels weird. I miss out on fun. I promise myself next time, I won't abide by Western convention.
May 3, 2006
I want to continue writing, but the dreaded day has arrived. I'm driving to Nicoya accompanied by Terri and Matthias in their car. No one here likes driving the hour along a hellish dirt track to the 'big city', though it's really just a small town. But, Nicoya has two banks and two ATM machines and I desperately need money to pay rent etc. And it's a chance to stock up on goods unavailable around Nosara. Expats living here tend to delay the trip until absolutely necessary, and then try and accomplish far too much in far too little time. I'm no exception. Which is a shame because it seems to be a pretty little town and the people are friendly.
Something nags me that I don't want to go. However, the bass of the music next door is getting on my nerves and the neighbors are out back clearing plants and debris from a wash that'll run through the back when the rains eventually come.
Friends have given me the name of a reputable mechanic in the hope they can do anything to get me better gas mileage than the 9-10 mpg I'm currently getting. However I'm told because of the poor roads where I live where potholes abound, I should expect to get the equivalent of city gas mileage. Added to this, a few months back additives were added to the gasoline which wrecks havoc on the mileage of older 8 cylinder vehicles-which is what I have. They suggest I continue riding a bicycle. The good news is I have no further repair bills... I buy numerous items including a comb which on the label has the price in Arabic, written VO for 75. I guess this is probably in piastres, from a detoured Egyptian shipment. I laugh. Who would've thought?
I don't leave Nicoya till after 2, somehow getting caught up in a shopping frenzy, searching for things I don't really need, and fortunately don't buy. On the way home I pick up two girls needing a ride. They have trouble opening the passenger door, and on the way back from letting them out I notice my back tire, the one already worn from the accident in Guatamala, is partly shredded and canvas is showing. Nicoya would've been the perfect place to buy a tire...
I arrive home exhausted. Next door a fire is smoldering and the beautiful green jungle at the bottom of their garden has been decimated. Coconut trees and palms have been cut down-trees which were also my view. Now what I see through the remaining trees and bushes is ashes and dirt.
I lug my water containers to the faucet where Tato's new wife is washing the floor of the bedroom they haven't yet moved into. We look at the carnage.
"It's not very pretty," I say.
"No," she replies shaking her head sadly.
May 4, 2006
I wake up and open the back door. A fire about six feet in diameter is raging where ashes and coals have been smoldering since yesterday. I throw on clothes and run next door. No one's around, except for Grandmother Linda (pronounced Erlinda) who's 84. She walks painfully slowly to the fire and concludes that it's ok. "Yes, I realize right now it's ok," I try and communicate. But the old wood laying at the bottom of the wash is connected to old wood laying on my side of the wash. Coming from California, I'm well aware that if that catches, flames could easily jump to the house. I pull some of the wood away.
Tired from a bad night's sleep after too long a day in Nicoya, I decide to ignore the situation and take the dogs for a quick walk. When I return, there is just smoke and small flames. But within an hour, flames have sprung up again. I go next door, ask for a shovel and start throwing dirt on the fire and pulling stray bits of wood into the ashes. The men watch.
I go back to writing. Music starts, the bass is jarring. That's joined by a chain saw.
"That's it dogs, we're leaving," I announce and begin gathering up my things, planning on checking email, getting a new used tire (which is the best I can hope for around here) and seeing Terri and Matthias.
As I put my laptop in the van I see the chain saw noise is coming from a huge yellow electric company truck who are clearing branches around the power lines. There's a log about a meter in diameter blocking my exit. The situation is ludicrous and I start laughing. They assure me they'll only be a short while. They're as good as their word.
After email, I go to a place which fixes flats. Their selection of used tires is poor. I can't be choosy. They offer me one for $8. It has very little tread. They lower the price to $6. It'll have to do.
This is the first time Dog and Bruiser have been to Terri and Matthias's place. They've never been fond of their two American dogs when we've met on the beach, but now they're on the other's turf, they all get along fine. Terri gives me a much needed massage on their back porch which overlooks the ocean in the distance. Then, I take a hot shower, the first I've had since leaving San Miguel de Allende in Mexico on January 22. I leave refreshed.
But once again, I'm not happy coming home. Anyone else seeing the singed trees and landscape would barely notice a change. But I do. Added to this I notice a chunk of what's been cut is on 'my' side. Suddenly my Californian heritage of property lines are crucially important.
If the initial euphoria of moving here is 'The Honeymoon Phase', today I'm ready for a divorce. Despite the massage, nothing is free from my ire. I'm wearing a loose cotton shirts I'd bought in Nicoya-a shapeless piece of cloth, which though sleeveless, makes me feel I'm in back in Egypt and having to dress conservatively.
To me, living next to the ocean means wearing shorts, tank tops in the day and wearing bikinis in the water. Instead, I wear a one-piece. Holiday goers from San Jose wear skimpy thong bikinis. But they don't live here. They talk to my lower class neighbors only if necessary. In contrast, I'm a single female from America, which in many countries who view American movies means I'm willing to do anything with anyone. Predictably, my neighbors have wanted to marry me off to a number of different men. Some already married, some who I'm theoretically old enough to be their grandmother! It's all in good fun, but I know there's a fine line. Crossing that line opens me to harassment I don't want. And without being anywhere near fluent, it's difficult to defend myself. In rebellion to these cross-cultural differences, while in Nicoya I'd also bought two bikinis... when or where I'll wear them is anyone's guess!
I hole myself up in my house. When I take the dogs for a walk, I go in the direction of range-land, away from the village and people I don't want to talk to. A migraine threatens. After sunset, I resentfully put on my ONE PIECE bathing suit, grab my snorkel and head for the water. I've never swum here at night. As I walk down the path I see three figures coming towards me. In the dim light I can't see who it is, but assume I don't like them. I don't like anyone right now. Nevertheless, I say hello.
"What are you doing going snorkeling so late??? Something will reach up and grab you!" says Flores jokingly, my favorite person in the whole village. Spontaneously, I reach out and place my hands on her arm, happy knowing it's a friend. The body contact reconnects me not only to her, but to the whole village.
I laugh. I love how people in the village are not overly protective and let me get on with my own life. She doesn't warn me, "You better not go swimming at night," just as none of my neighbors have ever told me to not go swimming beyond the breakers. None of them go in deeper than their chests-I think because I'm not certain any of them know how to swim. And of course, none of them wear life vests when they go out on the fishing boats...
There's no moon and I disappear into the water's darkness. It's warm and divine. Though I can't see underwater, I'm wearing my snorkel because I hate getting water in my eyes. And I'm a lousy breather. The benefit is as my fingers reach out in front of me to course through the water, tiny particles of phosphorescence appear. I'm a fairy queen, sprays of light coming from my fingertips. Heavenly...!
May 7, 2006
I don't go to bed till almost midnight because I spend the evening singing lyrics I've downloaded from the web. Singing, something I did as a child and what I wanted, but didn't do as an adult has suddenly become crucially important. I sing on my walks, sing in the house, sing while walking by other people's houses and sing in the ocean. I credit this emergence of a renewed part of myself because of being in a place I love.
Passing by Flores's house on my way on a walk, she, her husband and friend are having a kareoke session with microphone. I stop, sing a few lines in Spanish and continue on my way. Great fun!
May 8, 2006
I wake up at 8 am. The sun is amazingly high and it's HOT. Instead of going to the beach to walk the dogs, I walk up to one of the vacation homes which is almost always empty. Though not so fabulous a house, it sits perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The water is brilliant blue contrasting with the white caps of the incoming tide. The breeze is transformative. I think, "Geez, I can write up here on days when the music next door (or rather the heavy bass) drives me crazy." Though ironically, they haven't been playing music at all the last few days... There's outdoor showers that I've turned on and nothing has come out. This time water flows wonderful. I decide to come up here in the evening and have a shower before going to bed
In the evening it begins POURING with rain, three weeks exactly after the last time!!!!!!!!!!! And this time it feels like it's here to stay. At 9pm I return to the vacation house on the cliff with shampoo, towel and two dogs happy for an evening stroll. I stand at the edge of the cliff underneath a Costa Rican gazebo type structure while lightning makes the ocean a shiny metalic sheen with brilliant whitecaps. Returning to the shower, I take off my clothes and have a wonderfully WARM shower mixed with light sprinkles of cooler rain. It's divine. We return home via about 50 steps which lead down to the beach. I'm so excited I don't go to sleep till midnight for the second night in a row.
May 9, 2006
I feel trashed having gone to bed so late and woken up early. But the air feels good and the bright purple and orange sand crabs which have holes beneath the deck are out in force, busily grabbing bits of wet earth and dragging it around their dens. Why, I'm not exactly sure. I need a nature book.
In the afternoon it begins pouring again! I need a swim since I hadn't
had one yesterday. Boats have just landed as I start for the water. All the fisherman are drenched.
Out in the middle of the ocean (or so it seeems if I only look west), pellets pling down and bounce off the waves and my skin! I take off my mask and while treading water, sing as loud as I can. It's an incredible experience.
I have the cover off the well collecting rain, which I know is silly, but I figure every droplet helps. Once it's one a half meters full, I have water in the house. I empty one bucketful from the roof into it. I only wish I'd followed up on my idea of having a gutter put on the corrugated roof with a pipe leading down to the well. I know I'd have enough water in there by now, it's raining that much! I clear out pipes as Flores's daughter and two other children are coming from school. It's pouring and all four of us stand in the rain with no umbrella's just chatting. This is so different than America... I make a note to where I need to dig trenches to carry water away from the house so pools don't form. Already, mosquitoes are more in number. I'm so grateful to have fans on the deck and in every room.
It's almost dark by the time the rain lets up enough to take the dogs for a walk. I head away from the ocean in the direction of the majority of the village. Lights are on in every house, doors are closed and music, talking and laughter is softened by the lightly falling rain. I feel like I'm strolling through numerous potential parties. I reach Alihandu's one room duplex where he lies on the front porch in a hammock, his little girl cradled in his arms. I'm not a lover of babies, but I'm genuinely moved to coo and croon to her so ecstatic is my mood. Like her father, she has a permanent smile on her face and watches fascinated as Dog and Bruiser, the biggest dogs she's seen in her short life, mill around.
We end our walk on the beach near the entrance to my dirt track. The tide is all the way out, the rain still hasn't stopped. I look west to where the horizon usually is, but like a photographer's 18% grey card, the scene is almost solid grey with no differentiation between sky and surf. An occasional white cap breaks the monotony. I've sung the entire walk. After months of dryness, I can't imagine the rain ever feeling monotonous. I'm lulled to sleep by rain pelting down on the metal roof while nearby there's gentle thunder.
May 10, 2006
All the grey ash where they'd burnt all the trees clippings next door have melded into the soil. But not only are the tree's leaves above burnt, but the entire trees have gone into shock and what remains is what appears like three completely dead trees. It doesn't look nice at all. There are times when I really wonder if the entire human species were created utterly flawed... This is not a cultural thing. It could've happened in the US, except there it would have the makings of a lawsuit. No one lighting the fire gave it any thought as to possible consequences. I'm reminded of a film based on a story by Jack London where the character uses his last matches trying to start a fire in a subfreezing landscape. In his haste, he uses his last match on a fire he's built underneath a tree. The snow above melts, falls, buries the fire and he dies. Different landscape, but potentially a similar drastic outcome.
I have a brilliant day writing then in the afternoon dig some holes for plants that have been rooting inside. The big plants I've been planning to move I conclude are just too big. Moving them will likely mean killing them. Besides I get tired of digging and fear getting resentful. My habit is to put too much work into houses not mine. I won't be doing that here.
To clean off, I go for a swim. The sky is brilliant blue from all the rain while underneath the sea's surface visibility is poor as it has been the last week. It's not important. I dreamt of swimming in the warm ocean for so long, I'm completely satisfied just to swim.
I rinse of with the vacation home's hose and dry off at home. Immediately the dogs want to go for a walk. It's not even 4 pm, but it's cooler today. Bruiser needs to loose weight so I get dressed. I'm eating lots of carbohydrates these days, but this is still a lot of exercise! We head to the ranch-land via Flores' house. She shows me a painting a friend of hers has done on tile. It's wonderful. She then pulls out an assortment of jewelry she's made from beads and shells, along with figurines constructed solely from shells. They're not my thing, but it's clear she's artistic. For her piece de resistance, she shows me an exquisitely carved gourd. I ask her three times to make sure I'm understanding her correctly and that she is the creator. She is. I've lived overseas long enough (12 years) to know when someone's playing the game of, "Let's be friends, I'll give you a little gift. And while we're at it, how about if you buy what I've made?" Flores is not that person.
"What's happening with your boat," I ask. Down near the beach sits a repaired boat freshly painted red, white and blue with Floricita written on the side, along with licensing numbers and the Costa Rican flag. Gasoline sits stored in her house. She's promised me more than once she'd take me with her when she went out fishing. The men have also offered, but I hadn't felt as comfortable with them when they'd asked, though I probably would now. But I don't want to go with them, I want to experience the ocean with Flores.
I'm not exactly sure of the details, but it seems my landlady, who is her niece, had offered her an outboard motor, and now it seems it's going to cost far more than she'd planned. I've asked her previously why the delay and she'd been vague. Now she tells me reluctantly. Weeks ago I'd noticed beer bottles in a crate sitting outside her house and I'd offered to take them to the store to be refilled. Now she asks if she can go with me on my next trip to the supermarket-but not to refill them, but to cash in the bottles and crate. She's determined to get a motor so she can earn more money from fishing.
In fact she does give me something-a huge abalone shell she says can be used as an ashtray. I ask to borrow the gourd to see if I can't find an outlet for her work...
She and her husband go to the beach and I continue walking with the dogs. I smile. Two of the people I really feel a connection with here have both turned out to be artists...
I loop through farmland and return home via the beach. Terri and Matthias are there with their two dogs. Also there to greet me is an incredible sunset-a gift of the new rainy season. Living in California and Cairo meant endless days of blue skies-what other people hunger for but which the three of us discovered made us bored. I love variety in my weather. We joke about how blase Paradise can get. And sad to say, the human condition is such that we can rapidly adapt to almost anything-good and bad. Standing on a incredible beach with colors shooting from the sky and palm trees all around, without traffic, pollution and noise... as Matthias says only part jokingly, "Oh ho hum, just another day in Paradise..."
May 11, 2006
Early morning two boats are going out and Flores is in one of them. I want to go, but I'd have to be in the other boat and they'll be out there for four hours. I want to go, but realize this is not the day. I have to go to Samara to get money. While there, I invesigate selling prices for gourds similar to the ones she's created. They sell for $5. Which means the artist gets $2.50 IF, there's no middle man. I think of the time it must've taken and wonder how much she'll get paid for fishing.
Crabs are everywhere and now not just the larger purple and orange ones, but smaller ones that keep finding their way into my house. I'm sure they accidentally drop down the steps and then can't climb back up the slippery surface again. Throughout the day and evening I capture about five with cloth and toss them back into the garden. There's one scorpion too. None of this phases me in the least anymore!
What I'm not happy about is the amount of bugs in the evening. The mosquitoes disappear when I turn on the fans, but there's a multitude of flying creatures I've never seen which are attracted to the lights. I keep all the lights inside the house off while I'm on the verandah and put mosquito netting over the bed. I remove one of the bulbs outside.
I don't swim today. I feel the difference. I return to the house on the cliff for a shower. Lightning flashes and it tries to rain but doesn't succeed. There are no bugs this high up. They're all in the jungly lowlands where live.
May 11, 2006
On our afternoon walk the dogs and I head to Garza. On the beach there's a tree. Beneath are hundreds of tiny yellow fruits resembling ones I used to eat in Kenya. I take two minute bites out of one. It resembles a crab apple and though not bad, I decide not to eat more. Within ten minutes a horrible fire like taste appears in my mouth and stays, no matter what I eat until the middle of the night.
May 12, 2006
The next day I feel odd. Everything I eat seems to have a slightly bitter taste.
When I'd gone to town yesterday, I'd bought two containers of motor oil for Flores. (No, she has no motor, but I think she's working a deal with Filamon whose operation this is...) I come up with a plan. She will do another load of laundry for me (she's been doing one a week for $4 a load, washed, dried and folded) and for the balance she'll help clean my house. A huge place by her standards, it's small to average for an American two bedroom home. But that's not the difficulty. The house was built about a year ago, and has been empty since then. Huge rafters hold up the roof, and the east and west side next to the roof is open, so air can pass through. Debris and dust has collected on all the beams, and stray bits of cement from when it was built still sits on top of the pillars. Every time there's a strong wind, bits of detritus fall down to the tile floor, so no matter how much I sweep, almost every morning I have a new layer of leaves on the floor.
So the plan is I climb up to the rafters, brush everything down and she cleans room by room. It appears like I have the more difficult work, (no ladder, and certainly the most dangerous since if I fall it's a ten foot drop onto concrete) but being small and agile, and hating persnickety cleaning jobs, the delegation of tasks works very well. But, I'd hoped it would be more fun and a bonding experience. It is now my limited Spanish really shows.
Nevertheless she wants me to come up to her house to eat tuna which she's caught the day before. I've already made plans. Earlier in the week while making a phone call to the states I'd seen a black man wearing a cowboy type hat walking by the phone booth. I've only seen a handful of non-white tourists while being here.
His name is Len Rainey. He'd been brought down by the man who organizes the music gigs in town. He's a rhythm and blues man and I promise to come see the show. I'm still feeling a bit odd from the yellow fruit I'd eaten and after climbing in the rafters, cleaning off in the ocean and walking the dogs, decide bicycling to Harbor Reef is a bit too much.
I don't arrive till 7:30, a half an hour after the show begins. Shows start early here in a town where the sidewalks get rolled up not long after dark. I immediately regret missing the first half hour and their Wednesday night show. Len Rainey is amazing. He IS the blues, but with a smile on his face. When we'd talked at the phone booth, he said hello to anyone who passed. This worked well with the Costa Rican's, but it seemed to confused a few of the American tourists.
While watching Len play bass guitar and singing, I observe the rest of the audience. Almost all the American tourists are now gone, so what remains are some Costa Ricans from San Jose, and the resident gringo community. And they're divided roughly into two category's. Surfers and retirees. (With a few exceptions of course.) All white. Myself included. I was reminded how bizarrely uncross-cultural living overseas can be. Yes, to live in a foreign country means you're enveloped in another culture. But ex-pats from Western countries are by and large, white and middle to upper class with university educations.
Racial diversity is something I knew I'd miss coming here. Tonight, that feeling is prominent. I feel I'm in a upper-middle class beach community in America suburbia. Len Rainey breathes musty passion into the well-heeled air. I regret not coming into town earlier in the week to socialize. Len Rainey, check him out. www.LenRainey.com
May 13, 2006
Slighty groggy from a late night, but I also feel easier about life. I go to fetch water. Usually while talking to Tato who's usually filleting fish, it's not long before my language skills are exhausted and I feel a need to go home to work. Today, I return home to get my tea, dictionary and notebook and return and sit for an hour chatting with him, Eduardo and then a relative who's a lifeguard at a resort I've never heard of. Victor speaks English so I ask a few questions I'd deemed to complicated.
I thought the digging for a well was an extremely expensive process costing at least $1000. It turns out it only costs $40 to dig each meter. I'm at six meters. Next doors is twelve. $240 would give me plenty of water. $120 would assure me I won't be lugging water for the next month. I've paid $150 as my last months deposit. I'm going to be talking to my landlady about this. I'm slightly annoyed. But not so much I don't have a great day.
The conversation inevitably returns to which Tico or Costa Rican I'll eventually marry. Because of course, they believe Costa Ricans to be better for me than a North American. Tato as usual throws in a few sexual innuendo's of what Tico's have to offer. This is always hazy ground for me which I tiptoe around carefully. Victor explains that as well as there being many words specific to Costa Rica and not in other Spanish speaking countries, that also things can mean something both good or bad.
Tato says, "Le dio por donde era."
I write it down and say, "Ok, what does this mean?"
Victor looks slightly embarrassed. "I don't think I can say..."
This is of course doesn't help me at all. The key word is dio, which of course isn't in my dictionary. And I'm not even sure that will help. I have a long road ahead of me...
Later I go swimming, which I love. The tide is high so instead of trying to walk to where I usually go which means maneuvering through floating logs and around rocks being beaten by the waves, I go directly in front of the village. I go far out as usual. On my way back, a boy swims out on his surfboard to meet me. He's young, but annoys all the women here with smacking kisses at them. His name is Fran. When I arrived it drove me crazy and I told him he was crazy while I shook my head and said I could be his grandmother-which theoretically is just on the side of true. Naturally, none of this had any effect whatsoever. If Fran made his smacking noises when other girls or women were around, they'd shake their heads and say he has all the 'chiqitas'. I didn't see how he could be popular with the girls, but perhaps at school it was a different story.
I've been trying to see through Fran's facade to meet him on another level. When alone, he seems quite nice-only when men or his friends are around is he impossible. A few mornings ago I completely blew his cover when I blew him a kiss back. He was floored. Neither he nor his friend knew what to make of this and after his initial he roared with laughter, as did I. I haven't seen him since.
So now it's just him and I in the middle of the ocean. He swims to me on his board, eyes wide, not realizing I'm out here everyday.
"It's deep out here," he says alarmed.
"Yes, isn't it great?!"
"Yes, but there's lots of fish out here!"
"Yes, mui bien! The waves are big today!"
"Are you coming back??"
"Yes, little by little."
We swim back in tandem. Once we're closer to shore I watch him catch a big wave.
"Bravo," I yell. And this is all he wants. He's happy. I'm happy because what was once an extremely irritating situation, is now nothing. Sometimes I wonder if not knowing Spanish is such a bad thing... perhaps language can get in the way, making life far more complicated than it already is.
After arriving home from our walk, I notice an incredible red glow in the sky. I'm hungry. We're in the season of incredible 'dime-a-dozen' sunsets. It can wait. No it can't.
"Come on dogs, we're going out again." Bruiser though panting heavily from the humidity is ecstatic as usual.
A small group is gathered around one of the fishing boats, Flores is on her cell phone and Tato is playing with soccer with a few Italian kids here for the weekend from San Jose. Laying on the sand is Fran, from the tandem swim today. I tell Flores and Tato what had happened and of course that leads Tato to joking with Fran. Now, we're back to the old Fran. And now Fran ropes in his buddies and as I leave with Flores, more sexual innuendo's are flung my way. I raise my hands and shake my head in hopelessness. We're right back where we were! Flores laughs.
While reading in bed, there's a loud bang and the power goes out. Only the second time in the two months I've been here. I already have a candle lit so the only difference is the fans stopping and the mosquito netting is already down to stop the zillions of new insects that have arrived with the rain. A bug person I know from Kenya has just written me an email and of course is excited I'm in a place with so many. I don't mind them, but I've become annoyed with a specific long black one that's always landing on me. I blow out the candle and see pinpoints of light flying through the room. Fireflies! Then I notice another bug beneath the netting. I turn on the light to get it out. It's one of the annoying critters. As soon as I touch it, it begins emitting it's strong beam of light. Suddenly not so annoying.
May 14, 2006
The power comes back in the night and I'm woken to bright light. I'd forgotten to turn the lights off. It rains a little. I wake up at 4, write for a while then laze a while. It's Sunday. At 5:15, I hear Sarah and Gustavo walk by on their way to the boats. We all work on Sunday.
I head out for our morning walk and meet up with Herman, whose two dogs we adore. I'd spoken to him yesterday, and been very pleased I'd understood everything he'd said. Unfortunately, he's moving today to the other side of town. He's bought some property. Even though I couldn't communicate much back, I made it clear I'll miss him. I don't ask about the dogs. I assume he's taking them but I don't want to know.
His two dogs are further along the beach and after a quick play, we all set off together. There is nothing more pleasurable than being part of a pack of dogs. I decide to let Herman's dogs take us along their usual walk. When we get to the main road, instead of turning left like I've seen them do before, they head right. We follow. We able along and then they take off into the hills. Bruiser follows for a while and then returns. We meet up a few times, but they could be gone for hours. I love the lives some, but not all dogs have here. They're fed and have a home, but unlike dogs in America they also have their own lives.
We make our way back to the beach through road which will one day be a gated community. It's lush in the forest and in the course of the week that it's rained, a soft layer of grass has formed on the ground. Yellow flowers cascade amongst clover. The finest of lovely soft grey mist's hangs in the air. Cattle graze. Sights I could see in the late afternoon, but lately I've felt a strong need to break some routines. From the outside, my life probably seems very free floating but in fact I've wondered in the past few months that in some ways it's too structured. I sense that's shifting as I become more comfortable here with the language and people and life.
The boats have returned and blood covers the front as they gut fish after fish, leaving the filleting to finish at the house. There's mackerel, a foot and a half long shark, and yellow-tail amongst the 50 or so bodies. Flores' husband throw's a few back into the sea because they're 'pereza' or slow. I assume this means they might not be healthy. Filamon comes down and retrieves one of them, showing me the color of the innards which he deems to be ok. Flores give me one of the mackerel. This is great as I'd planned to buy one for dinner!
Closer to shore, another man is cutting up the huge trunk of driftwood which has been a wonderful landmark for me. He says it's dangerous and that someone might drive into it. I say no one from here would, we all know it's there. He's concerned someone from out of town, and he's concerned that if the tide gets very high, it'll get swept against the home of the couple from San Jose who say that dogs should be on leads on the beach. I keep my mouth shut.
As yesterday after dropping off the mackerel, and feeding the dogs, I grab a cup of tea, dictionary and notebook to ask about a few more words. Then I say I need to go home to work. Eliceer (pronounced Eliyassar), my artist friend with the tattoo's says I should start dealing with fish, that there's lots of money in it. I wonder if he has a good point?! Should I buy a motor and help out both Flores and myself? She has the boat, I could provide the motor...!
May 15, 2006
I drive the 300 meters up the dirt road to Flores house and she, husband Albert and I load about ten crates with bottles into the van to take to Nosara for a refund. En route we pick up Andrea, her neighbor who's walking to the bus stop, and further along the road Miso, one of her brothers. Because the side door is tricky to open, I get in and out of the van numerous times as we proceed with errands.
We stop first to buy two fresh baked loaves of bread for me. $2.20. As I leave the bakery, a man's walking in carrying a case of bottles filled with honey from Nicaragua. Perfect timing, as the bottle I'd bought en route here is almost gone. There's also a fruit and veggie truck nearby so I buy a REAL head of lettuce for 60 cents.
There's a few people's electricity bills Flores and Andrea pay outside the hardware store before we go to the grocery store and unload the crates. En route I hadn't seen a speed bump, which is a stupid thing to have here since the road's so potholed. Andrea went flying into the air bumping her head on the ceiling and I'd been jokingly accused of being a bad chauffeur. Now we see that about four bottles were broken. We surreptitiously make sure the broken ones are on top... I never shop at this store, but Flores assures me it's much cheaper than the one closer to home. I load up on supplies since I don't want to be using the van again till next week because of gas prices.
Next stop internet, where wireless is now free at a hotel, and you sit in cushy chairs while people bring you water to drink. I leave my neighbors outside in the shade since I'll only be a minute. When I return they're all outside chatting with the security guard.
I'd forgotten to buy dog food, so we stop one last time. Throughout the journey, they'd joked that they were all dogs, since I've still got my On a Mission from Dog slogan on the side of the van and the front seat has the back rest removed to make it more dog friendly. So, whenever everyone had piled out and piled back in again via the side door, they'd all made dog noises, and I'd ushered them in and out with, "Benga," or 'come along'!
Now, as I get back in the van, I toss the food in the back and tell them it's for them. Everyone roars with laughter.
Meribeth, Flores daughter-in-law, has been bugging me for more than a week about trading English/Spanish lessons. Since I'd already been doing this with others on and off, it seemed a stretch too much for me and I kept 'forgetting'. And since she lived at the top of the hill our paths don't seem to cross too much. Earlier in the day she'd pointedly reminded me. It's late afternoon, time to walk the dogs and I really need a walk. Argh. Too much to do in this village! Nevertheless I grab my dictionary and a Spanish/English children's book and head out, just as she's also heading down to the beach. She pulls out from the back of the baby stroller a notebook plus a huge book. I now realize she's been lugging these items around for the past week in the hope we'll get together. It's quickly obvious that this is the language teacher and partner I've been waiting for. She's patient, as I am with her. She's already taken an English class but needs work on her pronunciation. I've now been here two months and am more aware of the sounds and have a much better vocabulary. Added to this, my intuitive sense with the language has kicked in. Sometimes to my detriment as I'm feeling so comfortable, I'm then shocked to discover how little I really do know.
Later while cooking dinner I remember what I've read about children needing to be exposed to language sounds before they're two years old. If they hear sounds not normal for their language, it'll naturally become part of their awareness. Otherwise, we have to learn it phonetically and consciously. Her baby needs to be hearing us practice. Then later, English will come easier for her. This is a baby who always smiles and probably the first baby I've felt a genuine fondness towards. Typically I like small critters to have fur on them...
Before bed, I take one last walk down to the beach. In the afternoon while swimming, I'd noticed Marisso showering off after boogey-boarding under a REAL shower not 20 meters from where I usually shower with a garden hose! The shower is half hidden in jungle so I'd never noticed it and I'm sure everyone thought I was plenty happy using the hose. The benefit of the hose of course the water comes out steaming hot from lying in the sun. This is cooler. But it's a REAL shower and secluded. It's dark, no ones out this late (it's after 8 pm) so I strip, shower and return to the house. There's a part of me that'll be disappointed when I can take a shower in my own bathroom...
May 16, 2006
In the night I waken and it's ridiculously hot. I move the fan up a notch. The next time I waken, it's POURING with rain, crashing down on the metal roof. This is the pattern here, intense heat then a deluge of rain. And I remember all the windows in the van are down, plus I'd opened up the roof vent so passengers in the back would have more air. Argh. It'll be sunny in a few days if not sooner, it can dry out then.
In the morning there's a light shower when we head out for our walk. Two boats each with two men are battling to get past the breakers. Standing on the shore are Flores and Marriane, whose husbands are in one of the boats. I stand with them. We watch for what must be fifteen minutes at least as they try again and again and fail. Meanwhile, the boats fill up with water and they have to bail water out, and when they're too close to shore the engine's have to be raised. The motors aren't on and a few times when they have the chance to get through, then the motors won't start. Everytime Albert looks back to shore, as usual he has a huge smile on his face. The dogs and I leave as Macho and Gustavo make it though. I return five minutes later just as Marco and Albert make it. Then two more men come down for the third boat. Now the boat needs to be moved into the water, so all us 'women' plus the two men half push, pull and carry the water into the shallows.
I stand on shore thinking that to have a self-imposed deadline for a book, though a decent idea, may just not fit here. It seems to pull me out of synch with the village environment. The village is like an entity in itself, a small pulsating hub of activity. Whenever I try and separate myself from it, something doesn't feel quite right. When I try and rush here, it doesn't work. Maybe rushing doesn't work anywhere. It certainly never has for me, though I feel I've done so for much of my life. My book will be finished when it's finished. Doing the next best thing, what feels right at that moment, is what works.
There's part of me that feels utterly at home here. No one thinks I'm nuts for walking in the rain, no one squirms about getting wet. Building a fire in your back garden to cook doesn't bring around the fire department. Wearing shorts is standard attire. Saying hello to everyone you pass isn't suspicious behavior.
While I'm writing, Bruiser sees something at the edge of the garden. It's partly obscured by trees and he makes a mad dash only to discover it's one of three chickens that come around. He stops cold in mid-hunt. I'm amazed how well trained they are with farm animals. No credit to me, they grew up in a rural area of Kenya. I think too it's partly genetic.
After a long way in the afternoon, I decide I really do need to finish my book before a guest comes mid-June, or else I'll be cranky. I decide to go camping on and off until it's done. As usual I have too much on my plate in addition to writing a book: publicizing the cat book, learning a new language, keeping up with a blog plus pictures and trying to maintain some sort of social life. At home, I grab my dictionary and notebook and head to the beach. Maribeth is not there. In fact the only people there are Flores, who is cradled in Albert's arms, and Eliyasser. Eliyasser tells me I'm very bad because I haven't been around. In truth, I've missed seeing him too, though he's always working next door. We have a artistic connection between us. And now I'm on the beach with the two artists in the village and a man with the biggest most genuine smile imaginable. The four of us trade swear words and body parts in English and Spanish. We laugh uproariously.
"Fock? Fock?"Flores keeps asking loudly.
"No, 'uck, 'uck," I say to correct her pronunciation, making it clear she can't be saying that in town.
Albert rarely speaks, usually smiling instead. In this small setting he feels more comfortable and he says many words in English. Not just swear words. The mosquitoes start biting and Albert says in perfect English, "Let's go." We part ways. I can't leave here to go camping. I vow to spend far less time on the blog and emails, hold off on publicity for a few weeks and concentrate on my book.
May 17, 2006
For the second night in a row, it buckets down in the night. Probably more so than the night before. After our morning stroll, I decide to check the well, not expecting much change. In fact, I have an additional meter of water!!! I decide to wait for one more downpour before getting it running again. I thought I'd be waiting another month...
May 19, 2006
I get so little sleep last night I decide not to write at all today. Instead I do physical chores. I have two store bought pillows, neither which I like and an old down sleeping bag which I stuff into a pillow case. I spend an hour pulling apart the nylon and carefully putting the down into plastic bags, then shorten a dress and with the excess fabric, pin together a pillow holder. I don't want to sew it by hand, and there's a house nearby where I've seen a sewing machine sitting under the eaves. It belongs to the wife Miso, one of the 'dogs' I'd given a ride to earlier. I've never been into his house and he grabs the opportunity to show me his wood carvings. He's twice the age of Eliasser, the other artist, and he's more prolific. But like Eli's work, they've very rough. But wonderful. They take pieces of wood they've found and like Michalangelo did with David, let the piece of stone, or in this case wood, reveal itself. He opens a drawer and shows me all his carving tools. I'm in total admiration.
Flores shows up and says while the wife is on the phone, she'll sew the pillow case for me. Two inches from the end, the machine breaks. It's one of those foot pumping ones our grandmothers used to use. We fiddle with it, I go and get WD-40, Miso fiddles and finally the wife sits down and attacks the machine.
"Fucking shit, fucking shit," she keeps saying.
We all laugh, but still it's frustrating. You never know when the precious moments in life are going to be. Most certainly, they're NEVER the ones you expect. Who would think my eyes would well with tears while fiddling with a ancient sewing machine. But they do and I feel incredibly fortunate to be here. Though in the end it's her machine, and I leave her to it. And it's still not working. I promise next time I go to Nicoya, I'll take the broken part.
May 20, 2006
I HAVE WATER. Edith's brother came by and shows me how to get rid of air blocks and now the tank is full! Throughout the day I turned the tap on
and off...because I could. Plumbing, what an amazing invention!
As a result of not writing, today I was a hermit. Didn't see anyone all day long. Went down to the beach around sunset and there was no one there. Then I saw my three favorite people walking my way. Excitement. But then they said they were going out for drinks-and they didn't invite me... I was so disappointed. I know I could've invited myself. I wasn't really thinking. It all happened so fast and then they were gone. Tomorrow I'll definitely say, next time you go, I want to go!
It was strange because in the morning, Linda and three of her Gringo
horsey buddies rode over to my house en route to breakfast. Was I upset
because they didn't say, Why don't you come? No. I guess to me a Gringo
breakfast doesn't sound as fun as Tico drinks...!
I have an infestation of ants AND termites in the house because of the
rains. Discovered they'd gotten into the settee. But the end
result was I took the settee out to the deck, and this is where it'll
stay! Why didn't I do this before? I never use the living room, it's no
place to sit! So that's where I'm writing from now. It's dark out,
candles burning and truly wonderful.
May 23, 2006
I have another lesson with Maribeth, and feel like my pronunciation is actually getting better. We're both firm taskmasters when it comes to this, me endlessly correcting her th's and she correcting...everything. We get to seasons and there's a picture of snow.
"I want to go to New York," she says.
"Why on earth do you want to go there," I ask, having difficulty even picturing the city in my mind from the cement steps I'm sitting on with a hammock hanging behind me.
"Everyone in Costa Rica wants to see snow. It looks so beautiful..."
"But it's soooo cold! And it's pretty in the beginning, but after a few days it mixes with dirt and it's not very nice anymore."
"I don't care. Why are you here?"
I see her point. It's something different. Variety.
"Yes, you must go to New York," I reply, and scold myself for being such a naysayer.
May 25, 2006
I get more writing done today than I have any other since arriving. I head out for a walk mid-afernoon, hoping to see Maribeth for a Spanish lesson but she's not there. Instead I find Flores washing clothes at her sink next to the washing machine. She just got back today. I ask about the motor she'd gone to get with Albert but don't understand her response. For the first time, Albert doesn't smile. I know something is wrong and sense it's important.
"I'm going to get my dictionary, I'll be right back."
I return and she tries again. Slowly I discover she'd been told of someone in San Jose, a six hour bus ride away, who had a motor, and that person in turn told her of another. The other person came, and asked for her money and said he'd return. She checked with the first man who assured her the man was genuine. And of course, they never saw him again. They told the police but there were no leads.
Anyone reading this will probably think, "Oh well, live and learn, this is the oldest trick in the book." And might then think, "Well, there's Lorraine being conned too." No. The people I know are simple country folk. They're not savvy to the con games of the city.
Flores is completely distraught. Now, not only does she not have a motor for the boat that sits licensed and painted on the shore, but she has no more money. She lost $500. I told her I'd try and think of a possible solution. I can think of some good money making ideas for when she has the fish, but not before.
I get ready to listen to music at the Blew Dawgs, get on Linda's loaned bicycle and head out down the path. Flores, Albert and Eli are sitting on logs near the beach. It's an incredible sky and I really want to stop and talk with my friends, though I know the mood is morose. But I want to check email and get to Nosara before dark. I zip by, say hello and keep going, knowing if I stop, I won't leave.
Part way down the beach, my route to town, I look to my right and see a wonderful rainbow. To the left is an amazing sunset. I stop, taking it all in and shed happy tears. This moment, is exactly why I'm here.
Terri and Matthias are back from Nicaragua to renew their visa. We complain about how expensive everything is, and our respective money troubles. We're all living beyond our means, something we didn't count on when we moved here though we knew Costa Rica wasn't cheap. I tell them about Flores' plight. I mention I plan to announce it in my blog and begin a fund for a motor.
"That's so wrong what happened," exclaims Terri in outrage. "Here's some money to start the fund with. It's not much, but..."
So with Terri's $10 contribution, made possible by her having a few new massage clients, Flores can start saving again.
May 26, 2006
A week ago I'd been asked to speak in D.C. at the annual convention of The Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs, http://www.charityfinders.com/cf/servlet/SlGenerateSite?charity_id=031605CHA002&action=faq.jsp. They're involved in researching and promoting non-surgical sterilization of cats and dogs. I will be speaking about the benefits of this procedure and potential usages I've seen in my travels overseas. The timing ties in perfectly with the annual convention of the Society of American Travel Writer's, which this year will be held in Santiago, Chile. Initially I thought I'd be driving, but I want to be in Costa Rica longer than three months and want to take my time driving south.
The conventions don't take place till October and November, but today the ramifications of my decision hits me. For the past three years, the longest I've been apart from my dogs is 9 hours. And usually no more than four. And never overnight. The anxiety is amplified by having taken Bruiser to the vet and learning a sore in-between his toes is a tumour. Both dogs are nine. They're no longer young pups. The trip will last over three weeks. Terri and Matthias are leaving in November for six weeks and have lined up a vet tech who will be flying down to house and dog sit as her expense. I'm interested in her taking care of Dog and Bruiser the three weeks before Terri and Matthias leave. The timing is perfect. The amount of time sucks.
A swim at high tide helps my mood momentarily, then I sink again. Now, I'm not only anxious about the dogs but my money situation too, even though once again, money came in unexpectedly from the sale of two stories to an airline magazine. But I want more financial freedom. I'm too close to the edge.
Then something occurs to me which has been on the edge of my awareness for a while, but like having something on the tip of your tongue, this has been hidden till now. In this day and age of copious self-help and awareness literature and learning, there's a lot of pressure on being spiritually evolved. I chastise myself relentlessly for being less than financially wealthy, feeling certain if I were truly a spiritual evolved person, money would be flowing into my life. It made sense when I used to bartend and waitress that I would be impoverished. But now I've been 'doing what I love' for 15 years, shouldn't the balance have shifted?
Look within is what we're taught to heal our shortcomings. I've analyzed endlessly, searched within more than many, and still I live frugally. Maybe, it's just that I work in a difficult field. Maybe there's another reason. Do we know anything for certain? No. Maybe one day I'll have financial success with my projects, and maybe I won't. But feeling guilty that my financial situation is due to spiritual shortcomings does me no good. I fall asleep mid-afternoon.
When I awaken I am calm. Thunder threatens in the distance. On our walk, I see it's raining at Terri and Matthias's house a few miles north. I head towards the storm. It starts spitting. I keep walking towards the dark. Carl, an American who's been here twelve years rides up with a friend on two quads just as the rain starts falling.
"Do you want a ride," Carl asks.
"I've got my two dogs with me," I reply. But really, I don't want a ride. It usually rains at night, so I rarely get wet. I love rain. And this rain is warm. We're now about two kilometers from the house and I turn back as the tropical storm hits. Dog takes off, hating every moment, and Bruiser and I trail behind. Rain touches my skin, soaking me with euphoria. The sound of the leaves being drenched is wonderful and the hills, covered with cattle and palms are softened with shades of muted grey.
Very quickly my clothing is drenched, my turquoise underwear showing through beige shorts. But I don't care. It feels great. We catch up to Dog who's found a piece of animal skin she's taking back home. Bruiser grabs the much bigger portion she's left behind. He tosses it around, trying to make it a more manageable size. When he abandons it, I pick it up. Suddenly he's interested again. We run beside each other, one end of the foot and a half strip carried by his teeth and the other with my right hand. I yelp and hollar. This is one of the best walks I've had since arriving in Costa Rica. I feel truly alive. I'm disappointed when we turn to go home, but as soon as we're on the deck, an incredible thunderbolt literally shakes the house, and my feet feel the deck vibrate. Looking out into the garden, the wash which I'd only previously imagined, is now running. I'm tired, and totally satisfied.
May 27, 2006
Lousy night's sleep. Dog was sick twice in the night from the dead animal skin she'd chewed on-both times on the bed. Even the mosquito netting is messed.
I decide to get Bruiser's operation taken care of so I don't have it on my mind. The vet plans to give Bruiser an injection, wait a while, cut the tumor out, sew a few stitches and have me return in a few hours. The problem is already three times this week I've had exhilerating drives across the driveway at high tide, dodging waves in a vehicle that doesn't have four wheel drive. I don't want to do it again with a dog who's recently been anesthetized. I explain the predicament with the vet who says instead he'll use something similar to what they use when tranquilizing wildlife. (I'll add here that the salt water is certainly taking it's toll on the van and bicycle. Fortunately with the rains, now there's gargantuan puddles to drive through to wash all the salt off and hopefully preventing the van from rusting away to nothing...)
Exactly as he'd said, once the fluid is in, Bruiser is out. But aware. So the vet gives a local anesthetic to the area to be operated on. I ask if I can stay and the vet says he doesn't mind at all, but usually people don't want to. I'd love to say I've done this before and have a strong stomach, but it's not true. I have photographed heart surgery and had no difficulty whatsoever, but I had a camera between me and the blood. This time I don't. So when I see the scalpel cutting around the tumor and before I even see blood, I feel woozy. Dog is underneath my chair and I use petting her as an excuse to bend over a little. So embarrassing. I do peer while he does the stitches and look at the tumor at the end...
I don't ask how long it'll take Bruiser to come out of it. I assume it's just like on National Geographic when you suddenly see the leopard shaking itself and standing up. I forget to calculate time lapse photography. I should've asked for Bruiser to go straight into the car and whooshed him home. Instead, I stroke him for over an hour while he very slowly comes to. Then he's lifted into the van. By now I'm sure it's high tide. It is. With Bruiser still lolling in the back, I drive into town and kill another hour while it pours with rain. Bruiser now wobbles on two and four legs. We drive back to the driveway, but it's still too high to chance. By now Bruiser's acting like a happy drunk, looking at me adoringly while still staggering. We very slowly walk the rest of the way home. I guard him from the two monster dogs next door. I'm nervous Bruiser will recklessly take them both on.
May 28, 2006
Great writing day, so everything feels great. Bruiser's foot is fine and we finish our afternoon walk at the entrance to the beach. Sarah sits alone. I ask her how she is and she replies not great. After a bit of misinterpretation on my part, I realize she's missing her family who are in Nicaragua. And I realize I may have totally misinterpreted what I'd thought was great intuition on my part.
In short when I first moved here, Gustavo her partner gave me a few winks etc. When I made it clear I wasn't interested, there were times when he wouldn't even respond to my hello's. Later, everything seemed to be fine between us. Then Sarah and I began talking to each other and we seemed to get along well. Then suddenly she stopped. I intuited that Gustavo had told her he didn't want her talking to me. Now, this may all be true. And it may all be conjecture! Language barrier or no language barrier, communication between humans is never a sure science. Anyway, I try to make it as clear as possible that in a few weeks I'm heading to Nicaragua and she's welcome to join me-though her family are still far from where I'm going.
One thing is definitely sure, for a small little village, there certainly are many complex situations. Some too personal to gossip about here. But it is relatively quiet. It's not even 8:30 pm as I write this, and Tato and Andrea, who've just moved in next door are in bed and the light is off.
May 29, 2006
For the first time ever I see the bat wake up with its usual chirping noises, fly around the house a few times, leave a few times before returning till finally he felt it was time to hunt insects.
Other assorted nature notes: While laying in bed, a lizard falls onto the mosquito netting and gazes longingly at an insect that's on the inside of the netting.
I see the tiniest baby howler monkey ever. It seems not much larger than bat. Life seems so much simpler in the animal kingdom...
While sitting on my bed underneath mosquito netting, a tiny frog jumps in. It takes about five minutes to catch him and put him outside where he
Every few days a crab or two comes inside and if I don't capture and release them, they die cause they can't climb out again. I have probably 30 living beneath the verandah. I toss them bits of fruit and vegetable clippings, which they cautiously grab and pull down into their holes.
While sweeping the kitchen floor (an almost daily ordeal) I accidentally sweep up a tiny baby lizard. It lays stunned. It's still there the next morning. When I touch it, it moves a few inches then stops. I'm sure it has internal injuries and am tempted to put it our of its misery. But I leave it. And after a few days, it's gone.
May 30, 2006
I pass Gustavo (in my bathing suit) and for the first time in ages he actually smiles at me when I say hello! Now, is this because I'm in a bathing suit, or because Sarah has relayed our conversation from a few days ago?
I get a ton of writing done. I can't believe On a Mission from Dog is almost finished...this draft anyway!
May 31, 2006
Bruiser's leg is not good. Yesterday I'd bought anti-inflammatory medicine from the vet and began a treatment of anti-biotics. But today it's even more swollen, and now all the way up to his elbow. The vet only comes here once every two weeks...