Fully enveloped in the dry season now for months, the earth all around us is covered in crinkly dry leaves, yellow dry grass and dry tinder branches. This combined with 30-40 mph winds makes this whole region a giant piece of kindling wood. The Guanacaste region has been on fire for weeks, all being fanned and directed by the seasonal winds, ironically the same winds we use to cool our house during the extreme dry heat of the day. It is a nuisance. The air is constantly wafting the odor of campfire about, permeating not just our clothes, but couches, cars, and curtains. The whole house smells like one giant campground, covered in black and white bits of ash. There have been times when we couldn’t see across the road as the thick gray yellow clouds of smoke smothered the road transporting the flames to the other side. During the day it is ugly, smelly and a nuisance, but at night the beauty emerges.
At night the burning red-hot spots glow brightly, some close some a distance away marking empty fields. The distant hills have beautiful rivers of fire flowing up and down their faces, remanent of a fresh purge of lava from a young volcano. The smoke is invisible. The fire is beautiful mesmerizing me much like a youngster at a campfire. Burned out stumps, trees spotted with red glows, fields glowing, and wind gusts creating dancing, crackling sparks across the dark night sky a slowly moving glow. It causes a desire in me to greatly improve my photography skills so that I may share what I see.
In the morning it leaves behind a matted black field and hillside, wounded smoldering trees, not dead, but wounded as soldiers slowly walking across a battlefield and a blanket of white and black ash. There are no personnel fighting the fire, no helicopters, police barriers, fire trucks, news cameras, it is just a normal day. Perhaps they don’t have the man power or the budget, or perhaps they don’t care, it is part of nature, part of life, a purge, perhaps it is Pura Vida. Whatever it is, it is now a part of the yearly cycle of our life. Next year, I will have a tripod!
Instead of sleds, snowboards, socks, jackets and hats, our gifts are surfboards, skim boards, shorts, tank tops and flip-flops. Instead of hot cocoa by the fire, we go watch the sunset on the beach testing out our new beach equipment and begging for ice-cold water. Instead of shutting all the doors and windows and watching the snow fall, we open up everything and lay by the pool dangling our feet into the water and long for the Papagou winds to flurry across our face.
It doesn’t sound like Christmas, but does it feel like Christmas? It depends. I suppose it feels like Christmas to those born and raised here. I suppose it feels like Christmas to this who have been supplanted here decades ago, but it does not “feel” like Christmas to us, at least not yet.
It helped to have mom and grandma here baking and cooking until their backs ached. It helped having 9 different pies and cakes, a well cooked turkey and countless traditional side dishes.It also helped being able to fly to Florida to do a little shopping before the big day. It helped having a great Christmas Eve service at Beach Community Church to ground us. But it was vastly different from any Christmas I have ever had. It wasn’t bad, it was just different. I have a sneaky suspicion the next one won’t feel so different.
Now on to the next holiday, New Year’s eve. I hear they do it big down here, but you’ll just have to tune in to see. We’ll see how different that one feels.
Until then, time for me to put on my new flip-flops, my new Billabong board shorts, my new tank top, grab a boogie board, check out the tide on my new tide watch and hit the beach for a little surfing. Nah, still doesn’t feel like Christmas. Oh well, I just need an iced latte with some whip cream and I’ll cope.
October is apparently the rainiest month of the year in Costa Rica, and this one has not disappointed, at least not in our eyes. If one has their eyes open the signs are readily apparent, huge drainage holes in the concrete walls surrounding yards, deep concrete ditches on the sides of the roads, and houses adorned with gargantuan gutters and spouts all for this season.
Talking to those who have resided here for a time, this has been a light rainy season. Thunderstorms in the morning, clear skies in the afternoon, clear skies in the morning thunderstorms in the afternoon. But something changed this last month. The thunderstorms have given way to rainy days, cloudy days and periods of downpours. You know it can get bad when your church has a contingency plan to meet in a nearby school if the rain causes the river to rise to an uncrossable level. Which it did last Sunday.
Even though I was born on Kodiak Island ie. one of the rain-forests of Alaska, and we lived there for years, it is taking us time to get used to the pure intensity and size of the local rainfall. Often times it pounds down so hard on the roof of the house, you would think it collapse under the sheer weight and force. It is a thunderous sound against the ceramic tiles, that could be almost melodic, but it echos more the constant rolling thunder. Even a quick sprint to the car, 30 feet away will leave you drenched to the point of dripping. But then, when the rain stops in the afternoon and the sun peaks through, then the evaporation and humidity, wet sticky humidity take over the day, and it leaves you begging for the rain again. At least you know you are going to get wet in the rain, the humidity is like a sneak attack; melting you from the inside out.
This being our first rainy season, much like people taking pictures of moose their first year in Alaska, we are shutterbugs, shooting video and pictures of the massive amount of agua that this country can endure. However, it has not come without a price, as there have been 18 road closures, massive mud slides, flooding and the likes.
So the following video is for your enjoyment, through the sacrifice of our dryness. Much like the pictures from my days patrolling the Pacific ocean, and waves on the beach, the pictures and video do not accurately display the veracity and intensity of the experience. But it represents a typical September evening and so far a typical late October day. The good news; if it continues we will be surfing down driveway! Hang Ten.
During our trip to Orlando, one of the main things on our shopping list, besides eating at Steak and Shake, was a waterproof camera. Did we need a waterproof camera?That’s like asking if we need an iphone. And I am not taking my iphone out in the agua, that’s for sure. Although the new iphone 4S will be released soon, hmmmm.
So naturally, as with any new toy, we took it out to give it a test run. It’s nothing fancy, but it can get wet and still take pictures, so it met our criteria. Plus, it is a lot of fun to bring electronics into the ocean with you, it kind of feels naughty. In fact it took me about an hour to figure out that I didn’t have to hold it above my head and sacrifice my body and as the waves crashed around me to keep it from getting all wet. So today’s blog is just a bunch of pictures taken with our Fujifilm XP waterproof, freeze proof (important for here) portable camera. We are still learning the settings, and I am too lazy to edit the pics, so some are dark, some are light, some are blurry, some just right.
These pictures were taken during some outings over the last couple of weeks at Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo and Avellenas.
Every once in a while I am going to do a blog on a major difference that I notice from AK to CR. I will tag them as Costa Quirks.
You want to know something a little scary? Driving in Costa Rica. First of all the roads are smaller than home, and they have no shoulders. Secondly, there are a bunch of critters all over them, iguanas, dogs,herds of cows, frogs, crabs,possums, skunks, chickens and much more. Even though most of them won’t hurt your car, they can cause an evasive action reaction, which on a road with no shoulders can be dangerous. Even scarier than the critters are the evenings. The roads are very dark after 7 pm. Imagine driving 100 on a small windy road ( yes I know it is kilometers, it just sound s cool to say 100) street lights non-existent, weak headlights barely illumaniting the road ahead, and then like a flash a dark skinned person appears in dark clothes about 1 foot inside the white line, oblivious to you and trusting that you will not hit them. This can lead to perennial tension on the steering wheel, causing excessive stress throughout the shoulders and arms, and flat wearing the driver out.
Traffic laws are things in fables and fairytales, speed limits ignored. Nobody drives the velocidad maximum, they either drive way below it or way above, never at it. Stop signs are treated like green lights and the double yellow line means you need to pass twice as fast. But you want to know is even scarier? The other people on the road, and when I mean on the road I mean on the road. The pedestrians, bike riders, scooter riders,horses, truck and bus drivers, all of them are extremely frightening, especially in the dark. Remember there are no shoulders, so where do the pedestrians walk? On the road, with black shirts and no reflective clothing, nearly impossible to see. Where do the bike riders ride? On the road with the same clothes.It’s like they want to be ninjas, never seen and never heard until they are right on you. This goes for all of the ones mentioned above, they all share the road with the car drivers.
But even scarier than that, are other drivers. Remember the traffic laws are rarely obeyed, so they drive however they feel like driving, pass whenever they want, and my favorite, stop in the middle of the road to chat with pedestrians other drivers or just to stretch a little. NO JOKE. Buses, Trucks cars all of them will stop right in the middle of the road, granted a couple of them actually turn on their hazards so there is that. Then while they sit in the road tour buses, trucks, motorcycles, bikes, all of them zoom by in the opposite lane of traffic. It is common place to see a fully loaded tour bus pass on a double yellow, up a hill on a blind corner.
It is a conundrum to me. We are in a country where the motto is Pura Vida, and the laid back life style is not only marketed but encouraged. Yet driving feels incredibly dangerous and rushed, it is an intense adventure rivaling whitewater rafting and zip lining, but more dangerous. But you want to know what the scariest of all is?………………….
……… I kind of like it!
Here is a three minute video of a 45 minute drive back from Liberia.
You know that feeling when you come home after a long trip. That ahhhh, sigh of relief, that feeling of relaxation, comfort and knowingnesss, that feeling of home? Well, we didn’t quite get that feeling when we opened the door to our new home. Perhaps it’s because we had never set foot in the house prior to this day, and the unkown always leads to a little anxiety.
The first impression was taken through weary eyes and tired bodies not wanting to unpack a single one of the 18 suitcases. The beds were quickly divvied up, and we were given a quick walk through of our new home. The very first thing I noticed, I could not help but notice was that our front yard did not have a lawn, but instead was a pool, a fan-shaped pool. And although it was nearly 10 pm, the pool was warm. The second thing I noticed were the giant doors, about 9 foot tall, real wood doors. They were pretty impressive. The third was a sound, it was the weird horn sounding noise,almost mechanical in nature, much like the vuvuzela horns. I thought perhaps the air conditioning was over worked, or a pump was broke. I was quickly informed that those were frogs. Lots and lots of frogs. I remembered the drive and seeing all the frogs attempting to jump in front of our car. Apparently they were coming to our new house. I am glad I was able to cut several of them off before they made it. However, a few of them were chilling right next to the pool, just waiting for us to arrive.
After loads and loads of luggage, we turned up the air conditioners and settled in for our first night. Early the next morning the kids were in the pool, while I walked next door to the Super Massai to get some eggs and supplies for breakfast, although no one else seemed to miss it. After breakfast, I continued to inspect the house, and I realized we were not alone. First, we had a cat. I am not a cat guy, but this cat liked me and loved the kids. It seemed very comfortable around our house, it seemed that it lived at our house and we were her guests. We also had some geckos and we had already met the frogs, we just hadn’t met all of them. One frog decided to become more at home than all the others, he took up residence in the downstairs bathroom. In the one place where there is always water, the toilet. Ben discovered him when he went to break the bathroom in. The frog quickly disappeared down the escape hatch, and made several more visits, usually when Ben was around, before I was able to trap him and release him back to the cesspool (pun) he came from.
Overall, the house is very nice. It is larger than we anticipated, but also well lived in and in need of minor repairs. So we have been working closely with our new maintenance man, Esteban. He speaks very little english, and I speak very little spanish. Together, we communicate well. There are a lot of hand signals involved, lots of “si, si” ” no funcionado” “es bien” but we make it work.
So far, other than the constant heat and frequent thunderstorms, our biggest adjustments have been to the critters. They are noisy and they are everywhere. Ants, frogs, iguanas, lizards, crickets all singing, and usually only in the dark. It is a giant chorus of nature lulling us to sleep or alarming us awake, depending on your point of view. I imagine in no time at all it will be difficult for us to sleep without the constant chorus of critters.
We are still getting settled and there is a lot still for us to do, but we are trying to get into a groove. It is a very difficult but exciting transition. Not only are we moving countries, but I am working from home with is another huge adjustment. And it makes it even more difficult when the sun is shining, the air is warm, the pool is blue, and the family is outside. I may have to find a computer screen that I can see well in direct sunlight. Steve Jobs you listening?
We feel blessed to have such a nice house with a pool, and a beach about a 4 minute walk away. I have run it several times and cannot say how much I enjoy the sound of the waves thundering against the sand. My feet are still Alaskan, never seeing the light of day, but I will strive forward to break them in through many miles of beach running.
I enjoy seeing the fisherman early in the morning wading neck-deep to catch barracuda, ahi, rooster, or anything that will bite their live sardine bait. But I eagerly anticipate the time when we get into a groove, start making new friends, find a new purpose and start living, instead of vacationing, although when your front yard is a glimmering warm blue pool, are you ever off vacation?