Our Costa Rican Adventure

This page is an ongoing chronicle of our time in Costa Rica. The first posts are a compilation of  stories I sent as e-mails to family and friends while we were living on the farm in Costa Rica. Most of our friends and family had no way of coming to join the fun, so this was my way of giving them a taste of our life in "Paradise". I am also including a link to my husbands Travelblog, acostaricanadventure.wordpress.com
where he gives an insider's view of the best places to go to really experience Costa Rica as well as a real life taste of what it is like to live in Costa Rica as an American. Finally as I can get them compiled, I will add stories and photos from our trips back to Costa Rica, once we returned to the USA from our year on the farm in Costa Rica.On those trips we widened our travels and found some new favorite place and off the beaten path places to see and marvel at. I hope you will stop in again to see more as I get them posted. For now, Enjoy!

Day 1 Costa Rica, May 2009

  And now for the continuing story of: " The Binford's Costa Rican adventure"...
  We left San Jose in the pouring down rain, as we drove water rushed in torrents across the road. Going was slow and it took 6 hours instead of 4 to get to Tilaran. The trip was pleasant in spite of the rain with beautiful scenery to look at and good conversation with the driver, Kuki. He is an interesting sort and I am sure we will tell stories about him in the future.
  While trying to find the turn off to the place we were staying, who did we discover but our ever diligent and faithful son Erin standing in the pouring rain with a flashlight (where he had been for the last hour and a half) waiting to show us the way in. We were very glad to see him.
  Once we had unloaded the totes and luggage and waved good-bye to Kuki, we went up to the Casa Grande (big house) to visit with our friends the Carey's. We hadn't even gotten through the greetings when the phone rang...Sandra answered and exclaimed Oh, no-o-o! and abruptly sat down. Of course, everyone's attention went to the phone conversation. The phone call was from the Bishop's, the head of Project Benjamin, the people who picked us up at the airport on our previous visit. During the heavy rains that day one of the members of our Torah fellowship had lost control of his motorcycle , was thrown into the path of a local cab driver and was run over. He died on the operating table in Liberia a couple hours later. The next day Erin and Daniel's first act as members of our new fellowship was to help dig his grave. Another member of the fellowship prepared his body for burial. In Costa Rica, there is a law that the body must be buried within 24 hours after it is released to the family. This is necessary since they don't have the facilities for embalming and it is a tropical climate. The funeral was this morning, the cemetery was filled with a mixture of Gringos and Ticos, which is a testimony to the fact that he lived his life here as part of a community.
  Tonight at sundown is the beginning of the feast of Shavout, the feast of the wheat harvest, the celebration of the giving of the law at Sinai, and the celebration of the impartation of the Ruach Ha Kodesh (the Holy Spirit). We will be gathering together to begin the feast, originally we were to be singing, dancing and eating, now I think it will have a more somber tone. Anyway, we will all be there to open the feast day and give glory to God.
  As I sit and write I hear thunder rumbling in the distance, the birds belting out a cacaphony of different songs and the howler monkeys adding thier odd voice to the mix. It is a lovely moment, I am glad I got to share it with you! In our next installment of "The Binford's Costa Rican Adventure" the Binfords will move to the Finca and begin life on top of a mountain in view of a very large volcano...

June 8, 2009

  And now for the continuing story of: “The Binford's Costa Rican Adventure”. When we were last together, we were preparing to move up to the mountain with a view of the very large volcano... Our time in Tilaran was pleasant, we enjoyed the company of friends and did some preliminary shopping to outfit the house. We have made the trip up to the finca yesterday. A family from our fellowship helped us get our stuff up here and then graciously left us with their 4x4 pick-up for the next few days. That was a big help, since we live a fer piece from town and the buses only run out here Mon., Wed., Fri., during regular weeks and during holidays not at all... In the next week or so we will have to tackle the job of finding a functional car that we can afford.
Before first light this morning, I was startled awake by a Howler monkey that sounded like he was right next to my head. He is more effective than a rooster as an alarm clock, as a matter of fact, I think he woke the rooster up! Their howl is very difficult to describe... somewhere between the roar of a bear and the tirade if a chimpanzee. It's sound can carry up to 3 miles across the mountain tops. Howlers are notorious for bombarding you with poop when you stand under the tree to get a look at them. Monkey humor...I don't get it....
  Friday is normally a busy day for us since it is preparation day for the Sabbath. Today is no different except that we don't have a thing in the house to eat, for that matter a fridge... the one in the house chose to die last night. So I made something simple for our first Sabbath at the finca. We are having Erev Shabbat (the beginning of Sabbath which starts at sundown on Friday) at the bungalow, which is out in a clearing with a wonderful view of the sky, lake and on other days, the volcano Arenal.
  This evening the volcano is wreathed in clouds. We have the big plate glass doors pulled back, there is  promise of rain in the air. Off in the distance I can see a thick layer of clouds rolling down from the top of the mountain opposite us. The wind turbines have stopped spinning and are being consumed by the roiling mass of clouds...
  As I speak the clouds have reached the valley below us and are fast approaching....The air is charged with energy, the first misty fringes of the rains have touched my face. It is too late to go back to the house for what I forgot, at this point all I can do is wait for the force of the rains to break over us. As we sit snug and dry on the veranda of the bungalow, completely engulfed by rivers of water falling from the sky, I feel the presence of my Creator. This is the beginning of His day of rest, and He is among us, He is good, life is good. Shalom

June 20, 2009

   This week has been a very busy and mostly successful week. We have had some minor issues with the car repaired, we have access to our money, the gardens are starting to take shape and I actually learned how to operate my Spanish speaking washing machine (now we all have clean undies!!).
   I got up this morning and took a walk through the finca. During the week there is so much to do that I haven't had much time to just absorb my surroundings. Today though, it is Shabbat, there is time to spend on quiet pursuits that the rest of the week won't allow. I crossed the lane to the gate of the finca and stopped to watch a flock of parrots playing musical trees. They are so funny looking when they fly, with their big heads they really have to flap hard to keep from going tails up in flight. The game they are playing involves lots of noise, flying and squabbling over who's branch is who's.
    Inside the gate, to my left, is the path that leads to the rainforest. For the past several days as I walk past this path on the way to the cabina, I have smelled a very intensely sweet fragrance. I couldn't see where the aroma was coming from so I spent some time sniffing each flower and saying, "nope, not this one...". Daniel met me on his way back from the cabina and joined the search. Together we located it. On a tree in the middle of a bed of tropical plantings there was an orchid. The smell was emanating from it's tiny ornate blossoms. From a distance the orchid looked like one of the many parasitic/symbiotic growths that cover all the trees in this neck of the woods, but upon closer scrutiny the blossoms asserted themselves. It is impossible to take in all the detail that surrounds us, I don't think I could see it all if I had years to stand and observe.

   Right now the Bird of Paradise flowers are blooming. The variety that we have on this property is small and not as distinctly "bird-like" as the ones seen in floral arrangements in the states, but they are lovely in their own right. Just beyond the Bird of Paradise is a row of mango trees. These particular trees are full of ripening mangoes. It will probably be another week or maybe more before they are ripe. I look at them daily, salivating and hoping that we will get some of them before the parrots find them...
   Earlier this week, Volcan Arenal had a fairly substantial eruption. We totally missed it. When I looked for the volcano in the morning the top half of the volcano was shrouded in thick clouds. It is often invisible this time of year due to heavy cloud cover. Later, we were sitting in a restaurant when I felt intensely dizzy and nauseas but I didn't think about seismic activity. After breakfast we planned to make a trip to Canas (written with a tilde over the "n" to give it the"nyah" sound) and Liberia (pronounced li-bear-ia), so when we left the restaurant our backs were to the east and we didn't see the plumes of steam and debris that had just been belched into the air. We didn't hear about the eruption until that evening when I checked my e-mail and my friend Cindy had written to see if we were ok! It's pretty sad when someone in the U.S. knows more about what is going on here than we do! Once I heard about the eruption, my bout with vertigo in the morning made sense. In the past my inner ear was a reliable early warning system for seismic activity. I guess I will pay more attention to "dizzy spells", now that we live at the base of an active volcano!

This photo was taken with  a cell phone so the photo is really grainy.
We were driving down the mountain from our house when we witnessed this eruption.

   This morning as I was preparing breakfast, the loud sound of a bullhorn silenced the early morning birdsong. With a recent volcano eruption in the back of my mind, I found myself with my heart up in my throat at the sight of an ambulance driving up the dirt lane to our house with its loud speaker blaring something unintelligable in spanish. In my mind, a vehicle as official as an ambulance, broadcasting by loudspeaker, would be the logical way to warn people of an emergency (like a more serious volcanic eruption...). Daniel went outside to see what was going on and returned with a look of consternation (or concern?) on his face. He said the ambulance driver was selling raffle tickets. Wow, what a relief! But at the same time what an aggravation, how far from civilization do we have to move before we don't have to deal with people selling stuff door to door?

Today has been a good day, (if you don't count the ambulance at early o'clock...). A quiet and beautiful walk on the farm, refreshing and deeply satisfying scripture studies with my family, and time to write and think my own thoughts leave me with a quiet joy in my heart. Erin is blowing a fire to life in the chiminea, Daniel is bringing in more wood to feed Erin's fire and I am writing our story and wishing you could all be here with us. As the sun goes down on another sabbath and the first work day of the week is upon us, I am very greatful for the rest I have had and for those close to my heart both near and far. 

June 20, 2009

Well, we have been in Costa Rica for a month. With all the things that have happened and all the progress that has been made it seems impossible that it could only be a month since we said farewell to our life in the U.S. I am so greatful to God for all the provision and the many blessings that he has poured out on us! Since we arrived many people have extended the arm of friendship and provided an unending and vital flow of information and aid on how to do "things Tico". We would still be floundering in a sea of Costa Rican bureaucracy, if it weren't for the kindness of strangers. I am humbled, and just hope that once we are on our feet we will be able to give back to all those who have blessed us.
   Our newest addition is a land line to the house. While we were midrashing (bible study/discussion) this morning the ICE (pronounced e-say) people came to make the connection for our house phone. So, as soon as we find a phone...(Not as easy as you might think), We will be able to make phone calls from the house! We will post the number when we have the physical phone in place, hopefully in the next week or so.
   There have been so many good things that have happened this week, it is hard to decide what to talk about. Daniel and Erin have been taping and mudding the sheet rock in the apartment, we all have taken turns cutting in and painting the walls in the cabina. Both of these projects are in preparation for friends that are coming down to visit. There is much left to do, but we are enjoying the process and savoring the thoughts of our "Peeps" coming to stay with us.
   One day this week the sky opened up with a sudden rainstorm that lasted for hours. Erin and I were painting in the cabina and were unable to go back to the house until the rains decided to let up. Later though, we were recipients of quite a treat; the rains cleared the sky for a 3-D display of the Milky Way that took our breath away. I have never in my life seen so many stars...it was impossible to discern any of the constellations that I am so familiar with. I felt like I was looking at one of the photos taken by the Hubble telescope. This actually is rather rare at this time of year; the night sky during "the wet" is usually obscured by a thick layer of clouds.
   This morning as I was taking my early Sabbath stroll through the finca, I caught a glimpse of some movement under the tall mango tree in the dark part of the lane that goes to the cabina. As I approached I saw that it was the elusive bird that I have been trying to get a good look at for days. It is an odd bird, it walks like a chicken but has the body structure of a duck. It has short stubby wings and a beak that looks more like a bill. It rustles around in the fallen leaves looking for pieces of mango left by the parrots. As soon as it takes notice of your presence it just seems to evaporate into the shadows. I think I will bring binoculars the next time I'm out in the early hours and see if I can get a better look at it from a distance. Note to self...find Cental American bird guide....
   This coming week we will be purchasing sheep. Erin has been setting fence post and stringing wire and completed the gate late this week, so we will go Monday to buy some sheep from a local farmer. Speaking of livestock...Thursday night or actually 1:30 a.m. Friday, I was startled awake by a moo-o-o that sounded like it came from the pillow next to me. I was on my feet before my eyes were open. I looked around and saw that the cow was not actually on Daniel's side of the bed, but was in reality standing with her head stuck through the fence in front of the house. I opened the front door and spoke softly to her so I wouldn't spook her or wake the household. She seemed distressed and was trying to force her way through the fence. As I stepped out the door to discourage her from pushing over the fence, I saw my elderly Tico neighbor shuffling out of his house in his pajamas and flip flops, with a jacket thrown over his shoulders. He slowly shuffled past the cow at my fence to the gate of the pasture to the left of our house. He opened the gate, pushed it back and walked past the cow a few feet, turning to face the cow he waved his arms widely in the air once, the cow fled into the pasture and my neighbor closed the fence behind her. He then shuffled back towards his his house. It was quite comical, especially since the cow does not belong in that pasture, it is the young heifer of another of our Tico neighbors that grazes on the fields below our finca. This evening though I saw her back in her own field so all is well !
   We are going to head back to the house for dinner. The thick darkness that clings to the edge of the rainforest will absorb most of the light from our flashlights, the sounds of the nocturnal insects and birds will keep us company along the way. Life here is good, simple and sweet. We are finding our way and becoming part of the ebb and flow on top of a verdant green mountain in view of a very large volcano.

June 27,2009

  Two weeks have past since my last update. Last week we had a fellowship meeting to end the Sabbath and to say farewell to one of the families in our fellowship who are moving to Greece. Since Shabbat is the about only time I have to sit and write, I wasn't able to send an update last week.
   The first couple of days this week were spent preparing for Daniel to go back to the states. Originally, Daniel was going to go back to the States in September to work on the fall election with Decision Support. As it turns out we needed enough things from home that it couldn't wait until he was home in the fall. So, he is at present in Waxhaw, N.C. for the week. The morning that he was to leave we all got up at 4 a.m. and piled into the 4x4 for a twisty turny drive in the dark to Tilaran. The going was slow since the rains have washed out the patches in the pavement, which has left holes that are deep enough to swallow a tire. These holes are virtually invisible in the dark so it is best to drive slower to give yourself time to see a distance ahead of you. The slower pace almost caused Daniel to miss the 5 a.m. bus to San Jose. Fortunately, we made it just in time!

As we made our was back to the finca, the sun was just beginning to thin the darkness to the blue grey tint of dawn. The volcano was completely concealed by mist, but the lake was taking on the hues of the dawn skies as they were reflected off the still waters. Lake Arenal is seldom still, the winds usually blow across the lake hard enough to cause white caps, so seeing reflections on the lake was quite a treat. Once at home, Erin and I put on water for some good Costa Rican coffee and peeled a fresh mango for a light breakfast before heading outside. It is necessary to do much of the heavy work like digging or weedeating, (since we weed-whack acres at a time!), before the sun gets up very high in the sky. Being 10 degrees off the equator the sun is very strong here and we are still acclimating to it.

We have made a new addition to the finca, a seed starting greenhouse. Usually, a greenhouse is used to protect new little plantlets from the cold. This greenhouse is to protect seedlings from the wind and driving rains of rainy season and from the cutter ants that would gladly walk off with the tender young starts to add to their larder. Daniel and Erin bent feet on both ends of several 20 ft. pieces of rebar and set them in cement at intervals to form the framework of a 18 ft. greenhouse tunnel. We then stretched clear 4 ml. plastic over the frame and secured it all around. Erin and I took scrap lumber and made an 8 ft. seed starting table and lined the floor of the greenhouse with black plastic to keep down the weeds and make footing difficult for the ants. Now we have protection for our seedling and space to start more!

Recently, I was walking down the finca lane when I was bombarded from above by a barage of half eaten mangos. I looked up to see if the parrots were having a feast, but instead I saw a family of Howler monkeys. They were all sitting in the branches of the mango trees just above my head. I had a really good view of them since they were no more than 15 feet above me. I thought this would be a really good photo opportunity, so I turned around to fetch my camera from the cabina. As I turned, I came face to face with a large black Bhrama bull ! I stood still...the bull stood still... The Howler male started howling loudly, mangos still rained from above. The bull's large black eyes studied me warily, I spoke softly to it and stepped off the lane out of his path. I was hoping he would move on past me. He didn't move, he just stood there looking at me, so I decided to use the trick I had learned from my neighbor the other night, I waved my arms widely and the bull turned tail and fled down the lane. I called to Erin who was at the cabina.When he got within view and saw the bull, he started out across the field to get him. I stood on the ridge and watched to make sure he wasn't going to need help. The bull is new to the field he is on so he didn't know how to get back where he belonged. Erin would herd him down the field towards the gateway, the bull would run down towards it and then vere off into the rainforest. Erin would go into the rainforest to get him , the bull would run into the field, this went on for some time, until finally, the bull ran through the gate into his pasture. But... where was Erin? Just as I was about to head down to look for him he appeared at the edge of the rainforest with a log almost as big around as he was. The log was to block the large hole in the fence where the bull got out. The whole episode was comical, but could have been dangerous. I don't think chasing bull's was on Erin's to do list for the day....

This morning I got up at day break to have my early Sabbath morning walk. The forest was full of birds heralding the day and the air was fresh and moist. The mist was hanging just above my head as I walked through the dappled shade of the orchid garden. Standing here in the lush green of a tropical garden, I reflected on the first Sabbath, the 7th day, when God rested from all His work. I could almost hear His footsteps as He walked in the garden in the cool of the day, enjoying the beauty of His creation. On the Sabbath, He set aside the work of creation to spend time with His creation. He made a day especially to fellowship with us, to be available to us. What a priviledge it is to enter into His rest, to be restored by His presence, to be immersed in His love! And now, the sun is setting at the end of this restful and peaceful day. The last rays shine coral and pink against the ever present mist around Volcan Arenal, the valley and the lake below fall into darkness, and I think of my loved ones, those close by and those far away, and I thank the Creator of the Universe for you all. Until next time....Shalom

July 18, 2009
 A note...The blog editer won't let me move this posting to its proper location so this entry and the next are out of order...I apologize.

   It is necessary for all persons staying in Costa Rica on a tourist visa to renew their visa ever three months by exiting the country for three days and then re-entering to recieve the new three month stamp. Erin and I chose to go to Nicaragua for our "out", since it is the closest exit to where we live. Daniel didn't have to go since he had recently been back to the US. We did some internet research and found out there are basically two places you can go: San Juan Del Sur, which is at the beach, or Granada, a Colonial Nicaraguan Town right on the edge of Lago Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua). We decided to go to Granada since a recent bout with shingles made it too risky for me to be out in the sun (at the beach). Daniel drove us to the border, about 2 1/2 hours from Tilaran. He kissed us goodbye and went to find a mechanic for a pressing situation with the car.
   The border was shear chaos. Masses of people trying to exit Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua or visa versa interspersed with shady looking characters trying to "help" you get through the border (for a price...) or trying to get you to exchange your cash for Cordobas (at an outrageous exchange rate), take a taxi or sell you very questionable looking snack items. People were pressing all around, it was hot, we were standing in line for hours. Just about the time we got to where we could see the immigration official, about three people away from the window, the official behind the glass shut the window (presumably to go eat his lunch...) and the entire line of people quickly scrambled to get into the next line. Well, Erin and I were close enough to the front of the line that we were inside the metal que rails, so, when the music stopped....we were left without a chair... We had no other choice but to go to the end of the line and start over. It would have been an aggravation if it had only happened once, but the same thing happened three times. Each time we would get close to the window, it would close and we would have to go stand in another line. The last line we stood in, (we discovered too late to choose another line), had a French person who spoke no Spanish, trying to get 13 passports processed for people not standing in line. It took more than an hour for him to process through. Everyone in line cheered when he finally processed through and the line moved up. Two or three more people got their precious entrance stamps for Nicaragua, and it looked like we might get to the window before they started closing for dinner, when a bus driver with a whole bus load of tourists coming out of San Jose, Costa Rica, cut into the line at the window and tried to hand the official two stacks of passports to process ahead of those standing in line. A small scale riot ensued, old ladies, pregnant women with one or two in tow, workman going home to their families, foreigners of all sorts, became "as one" and bodily forced the guy to take his stack of passports and flee to a less hostile line. Shortly thereafter, we got our entrance stamps for Nicaragua and began our three day "out". It began with a very long taxi ride that cost $50 US, with a taxi driver who looked more like a bar bouncer than a cabby. I tried not to think about ending up dead in a Nicaraguan cane field and prayed for the courage and peace to get in the taxi with its surly driver and drive two hours from the border. God is good, we did have a peaceful, safe trip. The driver delivered us safe and sound at the front door of our hotel,(no detours to deserted cane fields...), and we took his card so we could call him to come get us for the return trip.

The city of Granada has an interesting history, but since I have so many stories to tell, I'll just recommend that you look up Granada Nicaragua on Google and read about it if you're interested. We were staying in the old Colonial part of the city, a happy distance from the squallor that makes up most of the surrounding area. We were only two blocks from the Great Lake of Nicaragua, which might have been a bonus if it weren't used as a dumping area for the city's grey water and trash. Our hotel had a nice lobby with local artists work displayed on the walls, pretty fountains and a Baby Grand piano. We were very hopeful that the worst was over, now that we were at the hotel, especially since the lobby was so nice...wrong again! The lobby was nice, the room was a dump. We made sure that we wore socks on the floors, and took sponge baths with bottled water, since the shower stall was out of the question.
We had to walk 12 blocks (into the squallor...) to find a place to buy bottled water, so we bought a couple gallons of water, a bag of oranges, some cookies and crackers and made our way back to the hotel before dark. The next morning we got up early and went out to take some pictures before most of the world there was awake. I had the opportunity to learn to use my new camera that Daniel brought me back from the states. Early in the day the light was great. I got some nice photos and we headed back to the hotel before it got hot.

We ate breakfast at a restaurant just down the street from the hotel and chose foods that should be safe to eat, fruit, pancakes, fruit juice... Erin had a bottled coke, which turned out to be the best choice, since my orange juice was blended with ice, a detail I didn't pick up on until after a sip or so. I wasn't sick while we were in Nicaragua, fortunately, but whatever contaminate was in the water set up a bacterial infection in my stomach that almost a month later, I am still dealing with. Sigh....

The rest of the trip was uneventful, we made it back into Costa Rica safe and sound with our brand new visa stamps and decided that the beach at San Juan Del Sur was probably the safer bet for our next "out" since it is much closer to the border and has a more tourist friendly environment, we hope.

July 11,2009

Well, Daniel is home safely. Erin and I drove to San Jose to get him. Actually, Erin drove, I was just along to enjoy the scenery! The drive takes about four hours, not because it is so far away, but because it is the only truck route across Costa Rica. Imagine pulling a grade from sea level to 3500 ft. in about and hour, behind a very long line of 18 wheelers laden with goods going from the port at Limon to San Jose. Oh my,is it slow going. It is hard to get above 2nd or 3rd gear for the entire climb. Fortunately, the view from the highway is breathtaking. The massive mountains loom above and to the left, dappled with sunshine and shadow from the clouds that move constantly across the landscape. In some areas, rows of coffee plants cover whole mountain sides while other areas have tropical foliage squeezing it's way through every nook and cranny of rock and covering both trees and ground alike. It is quite a show.
  Daniel had a good visit to the states, he shopped, conducted business and saw some friends in the local area. Unfortunately, his time on the ground was limited, so he didn't get to visit everyone he wanted to see, but he was greatful for the hospitality and heart that was shared with him on his short stay. We are glad that he is back with us safe and sound.
  We are also happy to have to goodies that he brought back with him! Now that we have construction tools, we can start building some much needed shelving and other storage space. Tico houses are small and have virtually no storage space. There is no space for pantry goods in the kitchen and no closets in the bedrooms. Ticos live lightly and in the moment, there is not much thought to tomorrow... this includes what "will we eat" and "where will I put my stuff?" I guess I am still very much a gringo where it comes to storage...
  This week has been full of strange weather and mishaps. Normally, this is the beginning of rainy season. That means, if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. There are periods of lovely sunny weather followed without warning by intense moments of torrential rain, then just as abruptly, it is sunny again. This week though, it has been more like a hurricane was lurking close by. The winds have howled for days across our mountain. Our roof, which is supposed to withstand 120 mph gusts had it's mettle tested. I have mopped buckets of water off the floor of the house as the winds drove the pouring rain through the window frames, down the walls and onto the floors. Our newly built greenhouse, which we located against the west facing wall of the bodega to protect it from the northeasterly winds, was blown to bits earlier this week. The winds literally bent the rebar supports and tore the plastic from the framework. Fortunately, we were there when it happened, so we were able to save our seedlings and recover the plastic before it took a trip to the lake! Being in close proximity to an active volcano can make life interesting. The volcano creates it's own weather, which means that whatever weather report you get on Weather.com is irrelevant, Arenal has her own ideas about what the weather is going to be.
  Erin has come head to head with a local ground pest and so far the pest is winning. The creature is called a Toltusa. It is a root eating ground rodent, about the size of a ferret. It is kind of like a mole on steroids. The Toltusa has been eating the roots of the trees in one of the fields flanking the lane. The first indication that we had of a problem was the day a 20 foot Madera Negra tree came crashing to the ground. Upon closer inspection we discovered that the entire rootball had been eaten away. Erin confired with a local farmer to see what was up. He was informed of who the culprit was and how to get rid of the little twerp.
 The locals set a trap by finding a recent tunnel, as evidenced by a mound of very loose dirt, placing a piece of tasty root or freshly cut stick in the ground which is attached to a large stick (8-10 ft. in length) by a rope. On the same stick, right next to the root/stick bait, you tie a wire noose. Both of these are carefully buried in the tunnel, which bends the larger stick and puts it under tension so that hopefully, the Toltusa will be lured to stick his head through the noose to reach the bait. When he chews through the stick the tension is removed from the large stick above and "zing!", the large stick whips upright interupting the Tultosa's snack and dragging him out of the ground, where he can be dispatched. This is what is supposed to happen. In reality the Toltusa wasn't born yesterday, he circumvented the noose, chewed the stick from the opposite side, and tripped the trap. Zing! the trap snapped upright with the wire noose dangling uselessly from it's string. So much for local wisdom...
  The saga doesn't end there though, Erin was still faced with the problem of a root eating rodent who had it's beady little eyes set in the direction of one of the tree mango trees on the left side of the lane. I left him amidst the mango trees contemptating rodenticide, so that I could make our lunch. I stepped to the door to tell him lunch was almost ready and found him on his knees, up to his shoulder in a Toltusa tunnel. I told him to come eat and heard a muffled response that I took to be, "Okay". When he didn't appear, I went out to see what was up. I walked from the house to the lane, as I passed the orchid garden I saw Erin, he was standing over a 3 foot deep hole filled with burning coconut fronds and wood. He was using a piece of plywood as a bellows to force the smoke down the tunnel. For several yards in each direction, there were places that the smoke was puffing up out of the ground, one hole in particular was blowing perfect smoke rings each time he pumped the plywood. As I stood there watching the smoke rings puff up from the ground, the movie Caddy Shack came to mind.... The thought occured to me that Erin may have lost his perspective, but with him standing there covered in dirt, pumping smoke down a rodent hole with a manic look in his eyes, I decided to keep my mouth shut. The next morning with much satisfaction, he noted that there were no Tortusa mounds in the mango grove. I didn't have the heart to tell him about the tell-tale mound of loose dirt and downed yellow bamboo a little further down the lane. It could wait until after breakfast.
  Tonight, after the Sabbath sun goes down, we will be going to a fellowship cookout and then to a local cultural event, a Costa Rican rodeo. There will be Ticos in their customary cowboy get-ups, beautiful high stepping horses, and Bhrama bull riders. So, while the winds blow, and the rains pound, we will sit next to Ticos and Gringos alike and enjoy the fun! Until next time, love to all and Shalom!

August 2009
Time was fast approaching for first visitors from the states, and there was still much to do. We finished working on the new kitchen counter/ eating bar/ entertainment center for the cabina, hemmed the new curtains for the cabina's windows and cleaned out the building supplies and set up a bedroom for Brian in the apartment at the back of the our house.

Brook and Brian in the rainforest
Erin and I went to Liberia to pick up Brook, our friend who lives at our cottage, and Brian, our friend and Daniel's co-worker at Decision Support. They were coming into Liberia, which is just1 1/2 hours from where we live. We arrived in plenty of time and waited excitedly to see each one's plane land. Brook came in first, and Brian an hour later. Between Brook's plane and Brian's plane we went back to the car and were going to run and get Brook something to eat before Brian's plane landed. Erin put the key in the ignition and turned it...nothing...no whirr, not click, nada. We had just had the car worked on the week before, so that we would be certain that it would be in top condition for us to get to Liberia and back with no problem, Argh-h-h! A call was made to Daniel who was at home trying to operate our cranky Spanish speaking washer while giving Erin directions on how to bypass the ignition switch and start the car by bridging the two contacts on the starter. Erin was yelling to be heard over the wind on our mountain top and Daniel was yelling over Erin's yelling, while Brook and I sat in the car trying to stay out of the way. It was getting hot and Erin was needing some quiet time under the hood, so I took Brook to grab a very expensive bag of fried plantains and a bottled water from the terminal snack bar. My cell phone rang while we were in the snack bar. It was Erin announcing that he had gotten the car started. So we headed back out of the terminal just in time to see Brian's plane roll to a stop in front of the customs hanger.

We collected Brian and the accompanying totes that he was bringing and headed for the car. One more jump of the starter with a rubber handled tire iron and we were off for home...or so we thought. Really it was a couple more jumps of the starter, one in the middle of the road after the car stalled on a u-turn. Finally, with food in everyone's stomach and the car acting like it might actually make it home, we set off for Tilaran. We were taking the scenic route up the back side of the mountain, the land mark for our right turn onto the dirt road we were going to be driving on was a bus stop with it's roof laying on the ground next to it. We passed the area where we thought it was, but there was no bus stop, so we kept driving until we were certain we had missed our turn. We turned around and drove back until we were certain that we had missed our turn again, so we turned around and repeated the process, twice, then three times. Then we called Daniel, who was still trying to get the washer to cooperate. He told us to look for the bus stop in the middle of nowhere, with it's roof laying on the ground...that was helpful...then he thought of another landmark, a sign for Nuevo Guatemala. Okay, now we know where it is!! So we drove back, again, and there was the sign for Nuevo Guatamala, right next to a sign that says in large yellow letters, "no entrada propiedad privada" which translates to " no entrance private property". Well this can't be it...so we turned around again, drove up to Villa Naranja which we knew was too far and asked directions from a policia that spoke in rapid fire Spanish that sounded like he was trying to talk around a sock stuck in his mouth. From what we could gather from his directions, the turn off was back where the signs were and the bus stop wasn't.

So once again we drove back to the only place the turn off could be and turned onto the dirt road. As we turned the car died for the third time that day. Erin jumped out of the car with the lug wrench in hand to jump the starter again when a motor cycle turned onto the road behind us. Erin walked up to him to ask him if he was on the road to Tierras Morenas. The guy looked startled and kind of skirted around him before he came to a stop, answered the question and took off as fast as he could. Erin got the car started again, climbed and and off we went. I was thinking about the exchange with the motorcyclist and it dawned on me that from the biker's perspective, stopping for a "gringo" wielding a lug wrench might not be such a good idea. I burst out laughing and shared my observation which broke the tension in the car and everyone laughed. Needless to say we were all glad to get home. As a side note...between the time we passed the bus stop with the roof laying next to it on the way to Liberia and the time we tried to find our landmark on the way back, the roof and the bus stop had been removed...consumed by the jungle "Jumanji" style?

Once at the finca the visit went much better. Brook was happily ensconced in the cabina and Brian in the apartment at the back of our house. Each equipped with a mosquito net to protect against uninvited jungle visitors in the night. We don't have a mosquito problem here due to the strong winds that blow continually, but there are other little beasties...

Brian at the Arenal Volcano 1992 lava flow

We all went for a day at the Volcan Arenal, we walked up to the old lava flow from the 1992 eruption. The volcano was shrouded in steam and clouds all day so Brian and Brook never got to actually see the volcano. She (Arenal) did prove that she existed though, by rumbling and chuckling and shooting rubble from the cone that you could hear bounce down the mountainside. It was startling and slightly eerie to hear all that noise and not be able to see where it was coming from. In the evening, while watching a movie with Brian, (Brook had turned in early to the Cabina), there was a sudden deep rumble followed by the crackling and popping of walls and the cement floor, as the whole house shook. The wall in front of us swayed like a tree in a strong wind and then it was over. An earthquake, probably a solid 4 on the Richter, made our day of volcanic/seismic activity complete.

A beautiful day for a ride!
The rest of the week was spent investigating Tilaran, running CAT5 cable to the farmhouse, chasing horses up and down hillsides, the objective being to actually catch them for a ride up to the wind turbines...which did eventually happen with the help of a lasso and two Tico cattle herders. We also spent time wandering around our rain forest and hiking down to the river at the bottom of the farm. Evenings were spent playing backgammon and cards, chatting and looking at the photos from the day. Sadly, the week flew by, and too soon it was time for our friends to go home. Daniel and Erin drove them back to Liberia to catch thier flights. Hopefully their in-flight dreams would be filled with the sounds of Howler monkeys and parrots, and the feel of the early morning mist that rolls down to our finca from the rainforest.

Pura Vida!

July 26, 2009

Early in the week, I was awakened by the absence of the howling winds that had buffeted us for the better part of two weeks. It was completely still. I sat up and looked out the window towards the rainforest. Darkness encompassed everything at ground level, but the sky was full of stars. Finally, a change in the weather!

One of our mountaintop views

The morning was calm and clear and we all went out early to relish working on the finca. The baby plants in the garden had faired far better than the greenhouse we lost last week, but some of the mature plantings really took a beating. A mature Madera Negra tree had blown over, the poinsettia tree along the lane is blocking the drive to the cabina, two of the coconut trees along the backside of the lane are listing seriously, and everything else looks like it withstood a two week long hurricane. Fortunately, this is Costa Rica, even the fallen tree can be reclaimed. Just cut off the branches, shorten the trunk, put it back in the ground a little deeper than it was, and before this time next year, it will be full of branches and leaves again. I don't know if I mentioned that if you plant it, it will grow....  a good example is the supports on the cabina veranda. The front two supports of the veranda are Madera Negra tree trunks. They are set in cement but must be making contact with the ground beneath the cement, since it is in our lease that it is our responsibility to keep the
shoots picked off of the so the supports don't grow branches. I'm serious, every day or so I go out and pop off the new shoots that are sprouting along the trunk. If left to it's own devices the veranda would soon be home to a full grown set of trees!

Tuesday morning Daniel, Erin and I went to Tilaran to run some errands. The weather was misty and wet and the windows in the Montero kept fogging up. Daniel was driving, I was riding shotgun and Erin was in the back asleep , trying to escape a bad headache. We were stopped to turn left, as we turned, we heard a loud screeching sound and saw a small passenger car rake it's right side across our left front bumper, and then shot on down the road a couple hundred feet before coming to a stop. It took a second or two to register what had just happened, then we pulled into the parking lot and waited for the car that hit us to turn around and come to where we were parked. The car sat in road long enough to see us pull into the parking lot and then it drove off. We got out and checked the car to see how much damage there was, there wasn't any, so we waited a few more minutes to see if the car would come back. The car didn't return so we went on about our business in town. In the grocery store Erin came up to me and said that Daniel needed to come to the car because the guy who hit us was looking at our car. About that time the man stopped us in the isle in the store and asked Daniel to come outside. He told Daniel that he knows that the accident was his own fault, that he passed us on the left (on a double yellow line no less...) while we were trying to turn left. Then in practically the same breath, he asked Daniel to pay to have his car repaired! He said he used his car to earn his living and that he couldn't afford to have it repaired. So he was asking us out of the goodness of or hearts ( and our supposedly deep american pockets...) to foot the bill for his car repairs. Daniel told him that he would help him to repair the things that would keep him from using his car for work... a torn off door handle and a front end alignment. This not because Daniel had any legal obligation to do so, but because we understand how hard things can be for a struggling family. Unfortunately, the guy was counting on a new paint job and anything else he could push for...so now we will be less inclined to "help" at all. It is sad really.
We met one of our Tico neighbors the other day. He dropped in on us at the cabina for a chat. His name is Samuel (pronounced Samwell). He is a construction worker by trade, but has a side business, he raises meat chickens and grows a lovely garden. We went with him to see his chicken operation and discussed the possibility of him supplying us with organically grown chicken. We purchased two for delivery by Friday, so that I would have enough chicken to prepare dinner for guests on Erev Shabbat (the evening meal at the beginning of Sabbath). His wife Lourda, would butcher it in the morning and we would have it for dinner at sundown...talk about fresh!
I planned to prepare the hens by placing sprigs of fresh rosemary and slivers of garlic under the skin against the breast meat. Then I would roast them, basting them with garlic butter as needed to brown the skin. The hens arrived as scheduled, two birds, kosher killed, cleaned and plucked, each weighing in at about 2 1/2 kilos (5 1/2 lbs.). They were huge, with a healthy yellow color to the skin. I was impressed. I went to prepare the hens for the roaster, reached in the cavity to make sure it was clear and found the giblets tucked inside. I laughed out loud when the first "giblet" I pulled out was two chicken feet, scrupulously cleaned and the nails trimmed off ! Waste not, want not! The hens, sans feet, were popped into the roaster and filled the house with their rich aroma as they cooked. Dinner was delicious, and the guests were so impressed that they too will be buying birds from Samuel.

This evening as Daniel and I walked down to the cabina we came across a family of armadillos. They were having an ant feast in the lane closest to the cabina. I went back to the house to get the camera, and returned in time to get some nice photos. They weren't at all shy and didn't seem to mind me taking their pictures. Daniel also got some video of them, so soon there will be photos and video on the blog.

Well, the sun has long since set, our little cabina seems to be floating all alone in the deep dark of the rainforest. Nothing is visible, not even the stars, but somewhere on our finca a family of armadillos is rooting around , helping with ant population control. The birds are singing, the insects chirp and the breeze carries the faint scent of orchids. And as for us, we will bid you goodnight and send love to you all.

August 2009

When we were last together, Brian and Brook had been safely delivered to the airport and we were taking a week or so to concentrate on whipping the farm back in shape before our next guests, Josh and Dawn Rivers, arrived...
The week was spent cutting grass, (acres of it...) weeding vegetable beds and trying to get the cabina finished. A few days before Dawn and Josh were to arrive, our Tico friend Kuki showed up at a restaurant we were eating at and bid us come outside. This sounds kind of odd, but here in Costa Rica things are pretty relaxed, it is not unusual for someone to see you sitting at a restaurant and make themselves at home at your table... Anyway, when Daniel and Erin went outside Kuki showed them two goats in the back of his truck. He announced that he knew we liked goats so he had bought some for us... uh-h-h, oh my...isn't that special... He hopped into his truck and headed up the mountain towards the farm. We tried to finish our breakfast asap so we could figure out what to do with these goats Unfortunately, Kuki didn't know anything about goats, so he didn't realize that the fencing we had recently run wouldn't hold them, ( only a fence that will hold water will hold a goat...), it was made to hold cows and horses, who don't skinny out at first opportunity. We got to the farm in time to see a black streak shoot across the field and down the north facing slope, with two Ticos on horseback in pursuit. The second of the two goats was still in the truck so we tied her up to a tree and Daniel and Erin went to see if they could find the escapee. Goats are smart, but timid creatures, you can't chase them with a horse or try to round them up with a dog, they run like a deer and are quite good at concealing themselves, they will disappear before your eyes.Which is just what this little milk goat did. There was no finding her.

The other goat, a La Mancha, was scared to death, she was also sick. La Manch goats, which if given the choice, (which I was not), I would never own, have very tiny ears that are prone to ear infections. She had a roaring ear infection that required a vet farm visit, and antibiotic injections. Of course, when trying to gain the confidence of an animal that is scared to death of you, the first thing you should do is stick them in their skinny little butt with a 3 inch needle! I think you can kind of picture how well that went over... did I mention that this goat has very long pointy horns?

Meanwhile, the days are clicking away, we have company coming, thing to do in preparation for that, and we are out searching for a lost goat. I went to bed at night with a knot in my stomach, thinking about this poor little goat. It's been three days since she was last milked, she was bound to be uncomfortable, plus, when she bolted she had a horse lead tied around her neck. The rope could very easily be tangled up in the brush, keeping her from reaching the river for water. What happy thoughts to have while trying sleep...

Josh and Dawn arrived in San Jose intending to spend Friday and Saturday nights in San Jose, and then travel by bus to Tilaran on Sunday. We encouraged them to come to Tilaran as soon as possible, since San Jose is really not a very nice (or safe) place. They worked it out with the hotel and left San Jose early Saturday morning, to arrive four hours later in Tilaran, where we picked them up. There were hugs all around, it was so good to see them! Then we were off for the finca and the start of a really sweet visit.

Josh's first official farm act was to help Daniel build an enclosure that actually would hold a goat. Daniel and he used cement reinforcing mesh to enclose a car port out on the finca. Now there would be a snug, dry, safe from preditors, "barn" for our solitary little goat. That was a real blessing! Another blessing was hot on the heels of the first, one of our neighbors came to the door to tell us that he had walked up the river on the north side of the farm to look for our goat. He had discovered where our goat was hiding and had come back to the house to get help in catching her. Daniel, Erin and Josh went with Samuel (pronounced Samwell) and in fairly short order had the goat tucked safely in the pen with the other goat. I was amazed!

With things set right on the farm, it was time to go have some fun. The first thing on the docket was a trip to Arenal Volcano. The day was clear and bright and the volcano was actually visible for at least part of the day. We ate lunch in La Fortuna on the back side of the volcano and then hiked up to the 1992 lava flow. Dawn, Josh and Daniel also took the Jungle walk and got back to the car just in time to watch a spectacular sunset.

On the step leading to the 1992
 lava flow at Volcan Arenal

The following days were filled with food, fellowship, a horseback ride up to the wind turbines, a trip to Playa Hermosa to play in the water of the Pacific, and last but not least a trip up to Monteverde to zipline through the rainforest. As height and the sensation of speed are not my cup of tea, I stayed in Monteverde with Erin and Yurri while the rest of the party went zipping through the canopy. They had a blast. Dawn, Josh, and Daniel all got some good video footage as well as some stills; some of which have been posted on Facebook. It was a fun day. The only drawback is that the road to Monteverde is a rocky dirt road that is riddled with hairpin curves and pot holes. It took almost 2 hours to go 26 miles! The silver lining is that the scenery will take your breath away. I felt like I was a character in the book Heidi, with a 360 degree view of the rock outcroppings and deeply sloping, grassy mountainsides, dotted with grazing animals. Beautiful!! Not so great though when trying to get back down in the pitch black of night. But thankfully we made it back home in one piece!

The week flew by and before we knew it we were standing at the bus station hugging good-bye. I had to swallow hard past the lump in my throat as their bus pulled out of the station. It has been our delight to have friends visit. First Brook and Brian and then Josh and Dawn, what a joy to be in the company of people so dear to our hearts. My prayer and hope is that each of you will come down to see us. Until then, love and Shalom from all of us here on the top of a very large mountain in Costa Rica.

September 2009

The "Monkey Garden"
When we were last together, we were waving "good-bye" to Dawn and Josh at the Tilaran bus station. With our guests safely on their way home, we set about our next task... preparing Daniel to depart for the States. There was much to be done, since he would be gone for more than a month. Daniel began cutting the acres, (literally), of pasture that were growing an inch an hour and Erin and I worked on setting the gardens straight. If you turn your back on the jungle for a week you will come back to find more jungle and no trace of the garden you left there the week before, (not quite literally, but close). After several days of weed-whacking pastures, beating back jungle and reclaiming garden beds, the farm was starting to look like a farm again.

  The next task was to get laundry done so that Daniel had clean clothes to take with him to the States. No big deal, just pop them in the washer, wash-rinse-spin and hang... if only it were that easy. To do laundry here can be a several day process. The washer must be filled with a garden hose, rather than using the fill selection on the machine, unless you want to wait 45 minutes while it fills, (for some strange reason they made the holes where the water comes in the diameter of a pencil...). Once filled to the Sharpie mark on the tub, not an inch more than the mark or the drum won't aggitate, you can put the clothes in and wander away, (but not far...) until it begins to drain. When you hear it drain the you need to go and watch to make sure that the spin cycle doesn't "tilt" the machine. With the water drained and spun out, it is time to use the garden hose again to fill for the rinse. Then you can walk away and just listen for the final spin, to make sure it completes the cycle. Once the load has finished, you shake the clothes out and take them to the bodega, next to the cabina, to hang them out to dry.
This seems simple enough, you hang the clothes, the strong Tilawa winds blow and Ta Da! the clothes are dry, right Wrong... You hang the clothes with flimsy, weak springed, Costa Rican clothes pins so that the strong Tilawa winds blow your clothes off the line and into the goat pen or even better, into the cow pasture down wind from the bodega. Or there is option "B", you get the clothes to stay on the line, the strong Tilawa winds blow and the clothes are almost dry when... the rainforest sighs a mist as thick as London fog that covers your almost dry clothes with tiny droplets of freshly created water... it can take two days on the line for a pair of jeans to dry, and that is when the sun is shining, if it is actually raining, it could be longer. Did I mention that we can get upwards of 200 inches of rain a year?
  On the 10th of September we drove Daniel to the bus station in Tilaran and kissed him good-bye. He boarded the bus for the four hour ride to San Jose, where he caught a plane to the States. As the bus drove away Erin and I walked sadly back to the car...in all our years together we have never been apart for as long as he will be gone on this trip. It was hard to watch the bus drive away. Life would be different for the next couple of months, four hands to do the work of six, an empty place at the table for Erev Shabbat and three of the fall feast day, the list went on and on in our minds as got in the car to drive to the next order of the day...a sick visit to the clinic.
  Erin had been working in the orange grove picking fruit and pruning trees, after several days of pruning, we built a fire and began burning the Mantapalo, (a parasitic plant that infests orange trees), and prunings that were too small to be used otherwise. Since the wood was green it smoked a lot, and we were in the smoke for a whole day as we tried to reduce the quantity of brush on the property,(there are some not too friendly critters that we don't to encourage to live in downed wood piles...). The morning after the burning, Erin woke up not feeling well. As the day approached for Daniel to leave, Erin continued to feel worse and worse, the symptoms were of the respiratory sort that we always dread where Erin is concerned. Years of struggling with asthma that turned into pneumonia have made us fearful of deep coughs, wheezing, or throat congestion. Daniel's thoughts as he rode to San Jose were of having to leave us here alone to deal with a potentially serious medical situation, in a foreign country, with very little in the way of a "medical" spanish vocabulary. Not happy thoughts to begin a trip with.
  Costa Rica has "socialized medicine", really a better name would be "subsidized medicine". There is a free clinic where anyone can go for the more run of the mill sore throat or well baby check-up, but there are also private doctors that are subsidized by the government so that their fees are within reach of most of the population,(it actually works pretty well). For Erin's situation, we went to the free clinic in Tilaran.
  The clinic is an older building at the edge of town. It is clean but has seen better days. One side of the clinic is for people who have medical conditions of the non-communicable nature like, a sprained ankle or diabetes, but if you have a fever or any other symptoms that indicate you might spread what you have, you must go to the other side of the clinic. This is basically an emergency room. The waiting room is a number of chairs lined up along the wall where the ambulance pulls in. The patients are dealt with through a window (a Jalousie-type roll out window like you would find in an older house trailer), that remains open just long enough for the person's Cedula (ID card) or passport to be shown and a name to be copied to add to the waiting list. Then the long wait begins...Erin and I sat in the chairs outside the building for hours, with a man that coughed loudly at 10 second intervals, louder when a medical person looked like they might come near the window. Fortunately, he was wearing a medical mask so we weren't sharing the wealth. As an aside... I find it odd, but people here seem to own their own supply of medical masks. They wear them when they are sick and in public, or when they are afraid of being exposed to something, like the receptionist on the "well" side of the clinic who answers the phone and speaks to you in rapid fire spanish while muffling her voice with a mask. It is amirable though, that they have such public health awareness. Now, back to the story... We watched a long line of "well" people process through the other side of the building, receive the necessary medical attention, and walk away. All the while we sat waiting, and waiting and waiting with "coughing guy", a teenager who played gameboy for his entire wait and a mother with a babe in arms that napped and woke up for feeding and play time twice while we sat there. Finally, the form of a human being appeared on the other side of the frosted glass door; there was some hope that we might be seen before the entire medical staff took their lunch (we had been here since 6:30 a.m.) The door opened and a person poked their head out the door. I almost laughed out loud when I got a good look at them, they looked like someone from a stateside hazmat team. She was wearing scrubs, a surgical gown with the ties up the back, another surgical gown with ties up the front, disposable shoe covers, not just one pair but two pairs of latex gloves, a surgical mask, head cover and fully enclosed pair of safety goggles. I didn't see any ear plugs but I wouldn't have been surprised if she had them in under the surgical cap! It was really pretty comical. She asked for the first one in line to come in with her and from there on out the process went pretty quickly. Erin was treated by a doctor who was dressed in street clothes, who was being assisted by the woman in her hazmat get-up. We had the diagnosis that Erin had a cold and little else to show for the almost 4 hours of waiting, but it made for a good story. In the end Erin's illness didn't turn into the dreaded respiratory infection, no thanks to the medical staff at the clinic...
  The days that followed were full of many good stories, fun times, and a whole lot of missing Daniel, but I will save those stories for the next update.
  The cool evening breeze is blowing in the window from the north face as Tagg snores softly at my feet. Daniel is writing blog entries and Erin is talking on Facebook, which seems an odd juxtaposition to the wild tangle of rainforest and the night sounds of the creatures under it's thick canopy not 50 feet from where I sit. It has been a peaceful Sabbath, filled with rest, study and lots of time to reflect on our life here and to think of all of you within the reach of these words. Until next time, Shalom

Late September 2009

Erin in weed-whacking attire
Our lives here in Costa Rica are filled with the processes involved in a "simple" life. Everything here takes longer since most details of life have to be done by hand. A whole day can be consumed in preparing food or doing laundry. Cutting grass is done on a large scale and is an every day thing. This process begins just after 6 a.m. The mist is still thick over the rain forest as either Daniel or Erin, (whoever takes on the task for the day) makes their way down the lane to the bodega to don safety gear, tall rubber boots, and an industrial sized weed-eater.
The next couple of hours are spent in the solitary rhythm of the swinging the blade back and forth over what sometimes seems like an unending sea of thick growing grass. The solution to at least half of the time spent swinging a weed-eater is to have animals that do the work of grass cutting for us. This requires proper fencing, access to fresh water, a corral for safe containment of animals when maintenance and medical care need to be given, and of course animals...
                                                      A Story of Cows...

We have grass... lots and lots of grass.... A friend of ours has cows, two milking Holsteins that needed a place to graze. He asked if he could graze his cows on our farm and in exchange, we could keep all the milk from both of the cows, except for what was needed for his family, 7 liters a week. We had discussed this back a couple of months ago, but decided that we weren't quite ready. We still had fence issues and problems with the cows that were on the North Face. These cows belong to our friend Kuki and are on the North facing slopes of the finca by an arrangement that was agreed on by the land owners prior to our moving in. Kuki is a great guy, but where his animals are concerned, he has too many irons in the fire. The cows are always getting out, trampling our gardens and having to be rounded up and put back where they belong, usually by Erin, since Kuki is often unable to be reached.
  So with these issues we declined to have cows back in July... forward to September...Daniel is stateside, Erin is full-time cutting grass since Daniel is stateside. The friend with the milk cows brought up the subject of helping us with our grass problem, and since we now have more confidence in our fences, having strengthened what was there and run new fencing,and it had been a month or so since we'd had any Kuki's cow issues there are still a few details that needed to be addressed before it will be safe to work with the animals and I really needed to talk to Daniel first but, there was some urgency in the need to move the animals, so we now have cows on the farm! When they arrived, the cows turned out to be huge Holstein milkers weighing in at 1000+ lbs., one of which was about to deliver....  we settled them into their pasture and we went back to work. We had been preparing the farm for an upcoming large scale event. We were hosting the Fall feast of Sukkot on our property and had much to do to be ready for 30+ people to camp and feast with us. At the end of a very long day, we trudged up to the top pasture to check on the cows, verified they were safe and sound and headed to the farmhouse.

New born Bella
The next morning we went out to do the animal chores and found our 9 month old bull, two Holstein heifers and a bouncing baby heifer that must have arrived sometime in the night. She was nestled down in the tall grass, if it weren't for her long brown ears sticking up out of the grass we might have missed her! We went down to check on her, assured ourselves that she was in good shape and called the owners with the good news. They came out for a visit, o-o-ohed and ah-h-ed over her and named her Bella. So with the new addition suitably named and admired we set about the tasks of the day, looking in occasionally at the mother and Bella to make sure they were bonding and that she was being allowed to suckle. The day was spent doing laundry and preparing for Shabbat that would be starting at sundown. We also had to build a pen for Bella. The night before, we heard the shrill cry of a jaguar, and had seen paw prints in the mud on the drive into the finca, so we knew that she would need to be protected or she would end up being the jaguar's Shabbat meal! At the end of day with the tasks of the week put to bed and the candles lit, signaling the beginning of Shabbat, we settled in to a well earned day of rest... or so we thought... At early o'clock on Shabbat morning we were disturbed by Kuki's workers, Kuki's cows were in a neighbors pastures.The neighbor was threatening to shoot the cows if they weren't off his land post haste, so they had to get their horses, which are on the north slopes of our finca and go round up the cows.....It was Sabbath, we should have been sleeping in, having a leisurely breakfast and a second cup of coffee before we had to go feed and care for our animals, but instead, we had to get dressed and follow them down to the finca. They are notorious for leaving the gates down and letting the animals out, so we had to make sure they didn't let the cows out as they crossed our pastures to catch their horses. This took a while since the horses knew it was Sabbath and weren't inclined to be pressed into service... After awhile, I went back to the house to fix breakfast, leaving Erin to wait on the boys to return with the horses... When they did show up they said they would be awhile saddling up their horses, so Erin closed them in the pasture and told them to make sure both gates were closed when they left. We were sitting down to eat when we saw them ride up to the gate, Erin went out and asked them if they had secured the gates. Both of them said yes, so Erin came in to finish breakfast. After wards we studied the scriptures for awhile until it was time to give the newborn calf Bella, her lunch time bottle. When we walked out within sight of the pastures, Erin saw that the gate was open and took off at a run. The cows; our bull, one new mother in milk and a pregnant milker, were all gone! The gate to the north pasture was open as well, so Erin ran up and down the steep slopes looking for the cows while I went back to make sure the gate to the finca entrance was closed so they couldn't escape into the road.
  On my way back from checking the gate I decided to look around the front part of the farm to see if they had wandered into one of the citrus groves or vegetable gardens. I found the bull placidly chewing on banana leaves in one of the gardens, but the heifers were nowhere in sight. I got a switch and herded the bull back towards the pasture and met Erin about half way back. He took the bull the rest of the way while I continued to look for the heifers. I went back to the field where I found the bull and searched the brush along the edges of the field. No luck, but on my way back up to the lane I found some hoof prints, they led into the rain forest. My gut churned as I picked my way through the thick vegetation at the trail head. This trail was due to be cleared , but at the moment was quite overgrown. The rain forest is no place to play, there are creature of all sorts that hide in it's thick vegetation, the feline howls from the night before came to mind.... Fortunately, the entrance was far more over grown than the trail, and I found more hoof prints and poop, so I knew that I was on the right trail! I followed the trail until it split, I took the left side, since there was some evidence they had gone that way. I walked until the trail dead-ended at a gate to the north pasture, no cows....
  Meanwhile, back on the farm... Erin was calling Kuki to tell him his boys had left the gates open, and to get him to send the boys back to help us find our cows.Kuki said he would send them back right away. Erin grabbed one of the work horses that they had left tethered outside the gate and rode (bare back) down to the bottom near the river. He found nothing so he made his way back up top...
  ...when I saw that there were no cows I started to go back and take the right side of the fork, but heard some rustling in the depths of the foliage to my right. I was very glad that I had decided to put my heavy muck boots on before I went down to feed Bella, since now I was going to be off the trail in the tangle of vines and thick underbrush of the rainforest. When I pushed through to see if the cows had somehow gotten in there, All I could see was more greenery and vines, but I definitely heard something moving...I was hoping it was a cow and not the jaguar. I glanced behind and noted that the forest had closed in behind me, if I went any further I might not be able to find the way I came in. I started breaking sticks and dead vines and kicked up the forest floor so I would be able to find the way I came in, (in other words I was trying not to also get lost...). I made my way in the direction of the sounds and found the cows about 50 feet off the trail. They were stuck in a thicket of brambles and vines, they were scared, but at least they were together! I tried to get them to follow me out, but they were too scared to move. I couldn't get behind them to drive them out without getting tangled up in the thicket, so I worked my way back out to the trail and hurried back toward the trail head to get Erin. I called in the high pitched yell I used to use to call Erin and Nathan home from the woods when they were kids. After much walking and yelling, I finally heard Erin's voice calling back to me. He found me as I was emerging from the trail, I told him where the cows were and he went in to get them, leaving me with the horse. I tried to lead the horse out and tie him back where he had been before, but He wouldn't budge. I was in no mood to argue with a horse and was looking for a suitable motivator (switch) when Erin appeared saying he couldn't find the cows. So we tied the horse to a tree and I led him back to where the cows had left the trail. He followed my "bread crumbs" to the cows and got them turned around and headed back. When we reached the place where we had tied the horse, all we found was his halter and reins...I'm guessing he decided being tied up in the rainforest wasn't in his best interest, so he worked his way out of the halter. By this time I was about in tears, now we had the cows but lost a horse! When we got up to the lane, we saw the gate out to the road standing open... Okay, now I have had enough!! I was visualizing the horse running down the road and disappearing into who knows where... who the hell left the gate open! I made sure it was closed before I went into the rain forest! We drove the cows back to their pasture and caught sight of the horses that the boys had been riding. They were the ones who had left the front gate open. They had also found the horse and had him back in his pasture, so at least we didn't have to search for the horse!
  During the walk down to the pasture I had been trying to calm Erin down, he was fit to be tied and was going to punch someones lights out for lying to him about closing the gates. By the time we actually got to where they were he had gotten his temper under control and was able to discuss the situation rationally. The boy denied leaving the gates open. They said someone else must have come through and left them open. Who? I know...maybe it was the jaguar... so they collected their stuff and left while I walked down to feed Bella. We left the house with the bottle at about 11 a.m., it was now 2:30... Some day of rest this turned out to be!
  Having safely tucked the cows back in their pasture and filled the baby up for the next couple of hours, Erin and I made our way back to the house to try and cool off and finish our studies. That was wishful thinking. After trying to settle back in to the Sabbath study, without much luck, we decided to eat a late lunch and just rest for awhile. Erin talked on Facebook with a friend and I wrote e-mails until right before 5:00 when it was time to milk the cows. We got our things together, and headed down to the pasture to milk. The cows were waiting at the fence for us moo-ing and shuffling impatiently. We don't have a corral built yet so we are still having to tie them to trees and milk them from the ground. I had the pregnant cow, who will be drying off in the next couple of weeks, since she is about 7 months pregnant, (out of a 9 month gestation). She will only milk out about 6 liters. Erin has the new mother who is terribly engorged, miserable and sore. She will milk out about 11 liters. And the bull, well, he will just stay out of the way... we hope.
  I cleaned my girl's udder, set the bucket under her and proceeded to milk. We weren't far into the process when something startled her. She jumped to the side I was milking from, kicked the bucket over and knocked me down. Then she was trying to get away from the bucket that was under her feet, jumping and stomping, while her head was tethered to the tree. I was still on the ground in the midst of her feet, so I did the only thing I could do, I rolled. I rolled until I was free of her legs and then I tried to stand up, but she hit me with her hind quarter and I went down hard. Erin was busy with the other cow, his back to me, so he didn't know what was going on until he turned around at the sound of the clanging bucket. He saw me under the cow, then rolling away and getting up only to be knocked down again. He jumped up, grabbed me and drug me clear of the fray. It took me a minute to get my wits about me enough to assure him I was okay, I had landed hard on my bad hip, it was hurting, but otherwise I was in one piece! Thank God! I could have been stomped into pulp! Erin helped me over to a bench that sits out in the pasture, (it has a great view if you are just out there to take in the scenery...) and went back to milking the new mother, leaving the other girl to calm down. The milking was going slow because her udder is very engorged and sore and she kept fliching and kicking one foot at the bucket. Finally, after enough of the pressure was let off, she settled in and Erin milked her most of the way out. He probably should have stopped a little earlier than he did... she'd had enough.. she kicked at the bucket slopping about half of it all over Erin, then she kicked him. Her hoof caught him on the inside of the knee sending him over backwards. He bounced up immediately, being younger and more mobile than I... and hobbled over and got her loose from the tether before she hurt herself. Well... that went well.... we both sat on the bench for awhile before limping over to release the other cow, who hadn't been milked and at this point wasn't going to be.... We collected our gear and left the pasture, making sure the gate was closed. We fed Bella what was left of her dinner and went back to the house, just in time to close the Sabbath. What a day!! But at the end of it we had much to be grateful for, we found the cows, they were not injured on their jaunt in the forest, (and neither were we..), and even though we were both a little beat up and bruised, there were no major injuries.

October 2009
  The days leading up to Sukkot were full, there was much to be done in preparation. Sukkot is one of the three biblical feasts in the Fall, the Feast of Booths, when all the Children of Israel live in tents or booths to commemorate the forty years that they wandered in the wilderness. The finca is the perfect place to hold Sukkot, lots of room to set up tents, a cabina that has a kitchen and a bathroom, a large covered area where we can serve food and congregate, all we needed to complete the package is a Sukka.
The sukka
  A Sukka is a hand built structure that was used as a dwelling by the wandering children of Israel for shelter during their years in the wilderness. It literally means "booth". For modern purposes the Sukka is a structure where food and fellowship take place during the feast of Sukkot. Our Sukka was constructed as an addition to our "bodega".The bodega is a rebar reinforced cement block mini Ft. Knox, where we keep our farm tools. It has a roofed work area and a loft where the intrepid soul can sleep in a hammock and look out over the Arenal Lake valley. We built the Sukka on the front as an extension of the roofed work area, so that we could feed 30+ people and fellowship even if (when) the weather was wet.The first thing we needed to do was to procure the support posts for the roof. In the states this would mean a trip to Lowe's or Home Depot for 4x4 or 6x6 pressure treated wood and a couple of bags of Sacrete to cement them in place. Not so here in Costa Rica...there is no such thing as pressure treated wood. Even if there was, wood here is expensive to buy and it is not in standard lengths or widths. So we have come to do as the Ticos do; we went out on the farm, found a suitable tree, and cut off a branch that was thick enough to serve the purpose. There are certain trees that are suitable for this purpose, the India Palato (Naked Indian), or Medera Negre (Black Wood). We have large numbers of these trees on the farm so we just hiked out to where the trees hadn't been recently harvest of their branches for fence posts and selected three 6-7 inch diameter branches and cut them off. After spending the morning cutting and dragging these “posts” back to the bodega, Erin and I set about digging holes with a shovel. The soil here is deep volcanic soil that is easy to dig, so no post hole digger was needed for the job. We measured out the area, dug the holes and set the posts. There won't be any cement needed to set the posts, because in a couple of weeks the posts will have established a root system that will keep them in place long term. This also prevents water rot and insect issues since those are problems you have when the wood you use is dead. The only problem is that from now on the new sprouts that would be branches if left to themselves, must be picked off every couple of days. It isn't a big deal but if we didn't pick them off, before long the would be a tree where a “post” used to be! After the “living posts” were set the rest of the project went quickly. We did purchase 1x3 boards and clear plastic roofing so that the roof would be easier to make “square”. We chose clear roofing material so that between Sukkots we can use the structure as a greenhouse. After the Sukka was built it was time to prepare for the festivities, cutting the grass, digging a pit to roast our meat in and preparing the cabina for our friends that were coming to Sukkot from the States, the list went on and on, but by some miracle we managed to get it all done. The Feast days were upon us and all was ready...
                                                                   Sukkot 2009

Our Guests Roy, Rhona, Amanda and Daniel with
my Daniel (back row) and Erin (far right)
  The early days of the feast of Sukkot were spent with some of our dear friends from our fellowship in Waxhaw. We all gathered around the table on Erev Shabbat, lifted our glasses and blessed the wine and then the six braid challah. For just a moment it seemed like nothing had changed, it could have been any Friday night where we all gathered to enter into Shabbat together in North Carolina. I looked into the faces of those around my table and thanked Yahweh for blessing me with each of them. Then with a lump in my throat I thought about our friends Cindy, Will and Ginny, who over the years opened so many Shabbats with us. Their faces were missing from this gathering, things had changed, we were not in North Carolina anymore... Our fellowship had been scattered to the far corners of the world, some to the US, some to Israel and some here in the highlands of Costa Rica. But one thing had not changed, as the sun went down, work came to a stand still, the candles were lit, the blessing were said , and we all sighed contentedly as the peace of the Sabbath encompassed us.
  The next day, after midrash Erin, Amanda and Daniel explored the property while we older folks “rested” in a more literal sense.... Later we all got back together to hear the stories and see the pictures from the kid's foray into the wilds of the farm. They had walked the rainforest trails, hiked down to the river, looked at the horses on the north slopes and returned tired, happy and as Amanda discovered later, covered in tiny TICKS!!
The following day was spent at the Arenal volcano. The day started out clear and warm, but by the time we finished lunch in La Fortuna, on the back side of the volcano, the weather was taking a turn.

The volcano produces it's own weather, and for today it had decided to wear a thick shawl of clouds, that produced a soaking rain.
Amanda, Erin, Rhona and Daniel
at Arenal Volcano 
For a period of time the volcano disappeared from view, but just before we decided to give up and head for home the clouds thinned and the volcano popped out of the gray in stark relief. We were able to see the vents of steam spout out of the sides of the volcano, and red hot volcanic rocks and lava roll down it's shoulders. It was a great show! The ride home proved to be exciting as well, but not in a good way...the driving rain, obscured vision and the pot holes, some large enough tho loose a car in, were filled with water so the only way to find them was with your front axle. Then there was the place where the road was completely washed away and after that the land slide that left a huge pile of mud and a tree in the lane where we were supposed to be driving... did I mention this was on a blind curve? It took forever to get home, but thanks be to Yahweh for safe passage and Erin for some mad driving skills, we gratefully arrived home and washed down the trip home with a beer.

  Later in the week we were joined by our Costa Rican Torah fellowship for the group festivities. There was camping, food and fellowship. The group was comprised of English and Spanish speaking believers, who had deep and meaningful midrash and light-hearted conversations in two languages. It was wonderful to see two cultures come together under the banner of Torah, now if it hadn't been for the Tower of Babel.... but there were enough bilingual people on hand to translate so that no words went unsaid and both groups mingled and mixed without any trouble. Each family took charge of preparing a meal and there were some people from the local area who came and shared our table. It was all around a good time.
The top of the mountain was covered with tents

Bilingual Fellowship

Families all took turns preparing meals

 As the light began to dwindle and the closing minutes of Sukkot remained, Ticos and Americans hugged and said farewell, having experienced a small taste of what the ultimate Sukkot will be like, when the Messiah returns and we are all gathered together for Eternity.Weeks have passed since Sukkot and now this Sabbath is coming to a close...Idan Rachel is playing in the background, the scent of roasted beef is wafting through the house and the Tilawa winds are sighing through the trees as I wish you shalom until we are together again.

November 23, 2009
The neighbor's rooster has a death wish...he stands at the window to our bedroom starting at 5 a.m. and crows at 5 minute intervals until he successfully aggravates me enough that I jump out of bed, fling the back door open, and shout threats at his tail feathers as he makes his retreat through the fence to the safety of his own back yard. He must start running when he hears my feet hit the floor, so that by the time I get the backdoor open he is safely out of reach. With my sleep sufficiently disturbed, I have little hope of going back tosleep, but I don't need to be on my feet until 6 or so. I spend the minutes between the last rooster crow and the time I need to get up laying in the early morning light, listening to the chorus of birds strike up their morning repertoire. This is one of the joys of my day. During this time of year the birds have competition for my attention; the winds are changing direction from Atlantic to Pacific and the resulting turbulence makes for some impressive wind gusts. These gusts are particularly ferocious in the early morning, drowning out bird song and with the bedroom window open, practically blowing the covers off the bed. So after relishing the serenade of the birds and the sensation of the sheets flapping in my face like clothes on a clothesline, I haul myself upright and begin my day in earnest.

My first official act is to determine the "uniform of the day". It is rainy season here in the tropics, that means wear clothes that dry fast. I have a wide selection of clothing choices (not), I can wear my "wet" weather gear, which consists of a polyester tank top, lightweight jeans, tube socks and high top rubber muck boots, or I can wear my "very wet" weather gear, which is the "wet" weather ensemble with the addition of a rain jacket. Either outfit is going to be soaking wet in a matter of minutes, so for the most part, I just stick to my "wet" weather gear. 

Once dressed, we are all out the door to tend to our first tasks of the day. For Daniel or Erin, (whoever is taking on the grass) it is to the bodega for safety gear and a honking Husqavarna weed-whacker. For me and whoever didn't claim the weed-whacker, it is to the animal pens, to feed and locate the animals on the grass for the day. Due to a resident jaguar, the calves and goats must be put in a pen at night and then pastured during the day. The goats go out on tethers that are staked to the ground with long pieces of bent rebar. They will spend the day eating a perfect circle in the grass, as they walk to the extent of their reach and eat the grass to a nub, leaving the rest of the grass untouched. sigh.... The calves remain in the pen until after they have their grain and their bottles. I usually get the job of feeding the babies while my partner puts the goats out for the day. It is a job tailor made for a mom. The process of feeding calves is much like feeding children, first put the food in front of them and then referee while they squabble over who is going to eat out of who's bowl, then break up the fight that ensues when one decides to "win" the bucket they want to eat from by sucking their siblings ear, thus depositing copious quantities of grain (and slobber) into said ear. Somewhere in the process both buckets get turned over and the grain is spilled and trampled. So it must be time for the bottles... this process is a contact sport...never,never,never, get in the pen with the baby bottles, that is unless you like being mobbed, butted, jostled and slimed with cow poo and saliva. It is advisable to stand on the outside of the rebar-clad pen and feed the little darlings through the fence, thus postponing the mobbing, butting, jostling and sliming until it is time to put them on the pasture.

Our new baby bull

Bella is growing up

Once the animals are out for the day, it is time to put a load of laundry on to soak, water seedlings, feed worm beds, and then return to the farmhouse to prepare breakfast and have devotions. By this time it is 8:30 or so and everyone will have worked up an appetite, so a bowl of cereal just won't cut it. A week day breakfast starts off with good Costa Rican coffee, P.G. Tips tea, and fresh fruit batidas (the local equivalent of a fruit smoothie). The batidas vary according to what is ripe on the farm at the moment; today it was fresh carambola (star fruit), manderine and mango. The main course will almost definitely include eggs, gallo pinto (a traditional Tico dish of rice, black beans,and chopped veggies) or polenta, whole wheat toast and the complimenting condiments including local honey, mora jelly (Costa Rican blackberry), cream cheese, capers and peanut butter. I call the cell phones when breakfast is ready and shortly the table is surrounded by wet, dirty, hungry people. So with the animals cared for, the grass subdued and breakfast in front of us, we thank Yahweh for all His bountiful blessings and tuck in with gusto!

With the dishes cleaned up and Bible and prayers done, it is back out to the farm to begin the actual work day. There is never a lack of things to be done, and most of the time the day is defined by the urgent, what needs fixing, what animal has gotten loose/injured/sick, what fencing has the neighbor's bull broken through... and so on... but this week we had no "urgent" needs, so we actually got something accomplished. Daniel worked on finessing some fence lines, sanded shelves he has constructed for storage in the pantry and spent some time in Tilaran running errands and getting a tooth fixed that he broke while in the States (see his blog at www.heartseasecottage.blogspot.com for that story), Erin worked on a hide that he has been tanning and then he and I worked in the gardens, weeding, planting, and transplanting. We have 50 Roma tomato plants set out in plastic covered rows, held in place and protected from the wind by 4 foot high tomato cages we constructed from livestock fencing. The garden where the tomatoes reside is near the front of the property and is dubbed the "Monkey Garden". The garden is surrounded by a particular tree that the Howler monkeys love, so when they come to visit the farm that is usually where they hang out. It isn't at all unusual to be working in that garden with monkeys swinging through the branches above our heads. I sometimes wonder what they must think of us as they watch us toil under the sun to grow our food, while they lounge placidly in the trees, munching on leaves and scratching themselves.

Howler Monkey in a Cecropia Tree

So at the end of a very productive week, the candle were lit, the sun went down, and we entered into the rest of Shabbat... This being the sabbath, our morning was different from the rest of the week, we slept in...the rooster crowed once and the wind blew it off the roof. As I heard it scramble to gain purchase and then flop over the edge I sighed contentedly, held on to the sheets as they rustled in the wind and drifted back to sleep. Shalom

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