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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Leaf-Cutter Ants and a Machete-wielding Carpenter

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
(Click on photos to enlarge)
         What a hodge-podge of leftover details I have to write about today. We have spent some time this afternoon cleaning our small chalet since our housekeeper called yesterday to say she was “muy inferma” or very sick, and couldn’t come today. Dunia suffers from asthma so in preparation for the arrival of our good friends, Penny & Joel, we were left with the housecleaning, a minor task really. Penny and Joel, aka P & J, are on final approach to Juan Santamaria International Airport as I write this, heading for some quality time tonight with their family in San Jose. Penny’s nephew Greg and his wife Amanda have just had their first baby, a little boy named Lincoln, who must be about three weeks old now. Penny’s sister Karen and her husband, Greg’s parents, are also here on a visit and we have plans to join all of them in San Jose tomorrow for what promises to be a festive evening together. And since Amanda is the Assistant Director of the Peace Corps here in Costa Rica, I hope to get some ideas from her on worthwhile volunteer opportunities.
         On Thursday, P & J will come out to Atenas to overnight here before they head up to Monteverde for a night in the cloud forest and then on to the beaches in the northwest province of Guanacaste. Ah, the life of the tourista!
         For us Gringo locals, life goes on as usual in our little paradise. In my last post, I mentioned the green mangos that Dunia had brought to us. Not knowing just how to use an unripe fruit, I turned to the Internet, of course, and learned that in Nicaragua they use these mangos for a “refresco,” a drink similar to what Gilberto prepared for us using the tangy citrus fruit in our front yard. With the mangos, the drink is more frothy but it has a delightful tart freshness that really quenches the thirst. We plan to try adding a little rum tonight, just for flavor!
         A week or so ago, our thoughtful landlady Hazel (with Kat above) surprised us with two fine-looking wooden slab tables for our patio and a large piece of the same wood to serve as another table top out in the yard on top of a tree stump. The wood is the beautifully grained madera called Guanacaste and for which Guanacaste province is named. Hazel was so cute telling us, with a devilish smile, that she knew we needed something to put our drinks on in the evening. And she also thought we might like to take our tall bar stools out to the tree stump table so as to have a different angle on our ocean vista and sunset. She had arranged for her friend Manual to come by after work to affix the wood slab to the stump. Exactly on schedule, I heard a voice at the gate and quickly went to let Manual in. Using his handy machete, Manual carved shims and nailed them on to level the wood and soon we had a new table.
         As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Costa Rica definitely has a large insect population and we recently had occasion to meet one of the most destructive of the pests. While Kate and Gilberto were here last week, they observed that a few plants in our garden showed damage caused by leaf-cutter ants and cautioned us that the little beasts could devastate foliage overnight. Sitting out at dusk the other night, we noticed a brigade (well, Layne thinks it was a full division!) of the creatures marching along the path just beneath our long patio bench, each of them carrying a chunk of leaf much larger than themselves. They were clearly on a mission! Using the flashlight, we followed them along the incredibly long trail they traced, across our lawn, around the palm tree, over the driveway, across the other yard and down to the bottom of a concrete abutment where they apparently have their nest. While we regret the damage they are doing to our plants, primarily a poinsettia bush, you have to be impressed with their industry, their teamwork and their determination.
         Kate had recommended a product called Mirex, which we found at a local garden shop, but when Layne looked it up online, he found that it is such a toxic poison, it has been banned in most countries around the world. Again, we have to shake our heads in dismay at the pesticides that are used in Costa Rica. Could the use of such products be connected to Dunia’s asthma? One might suspect as much. We plan to return the Mirex and hopefully substitute a more organic product to discourage our leaf-cutter friends.
         And finally, let me tell you about some of the birds we have here. You’ll recall the four Toucans, which served as a greeting party for us on our first night. Since then, although the Toucans have not returned, we have enjoyed watching several stunning yellow-breasted birds that come around each evening. A clay-colored robin-type bird, the national bird of Costa Rica named the Yigüirro, is also a familiar sight and sound. It was given status as the official bird in 1977 due to its strong and melodious calls that signal the start of the rainy season and because it lives so close to Costa Rican homes and is so familiar to Ticos. This little guy has such a loud voice that my mother can even hear its song during our Sunday Magic Jack telephone calls. Then there is the striking orange-breasted bird, an Oriole look-alike, which sits high in a nearby tree but is too shy to land on our fence. So it was a pair of the yellow guys that agreed to “pose” for a portrait for the blog. Hope you enjoy! 

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