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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mango Ceviche and Hiking an Old Oxcart Trail

Saturday, March 27, 2010

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Where else but in Costa Rica would your new housekeeper, who has cleaned your home only once, bring you a gift of green mangos and homemade green mango ceviche? Perhaps there are other countries where such kindness and generosity would manifest, but I was certainly surprised and delighted when our diminutive maid Dunia, who lives just across the street from us, (see photo left) stood at our gate yesterday calling my name and holding a bag of fresh mangos plucked from her tree along with a delicious dish of chopped green mangos in a spicy citrus sauce. I’m embarrassed to tell you how little she had charged us for three hours of steady good work. Indeed, we feel compelled to give her a raise and we consider her another one of the wonderful benefits of our life here in Alto del Monte.
           Her cleaning job came one day before our friends Kate and Gilberto paid us a visit, just a week after our trip to see them in their remote mountain village of La Estrella (see post at We didn’t know what time they might arrive on Wednesday since the drive they faced would take them through the wooly streets of Cartago and San Jose, probably a 3-hour trip in the best of vehicles. And their ancient Subaru sedan, named Goldie for Goldilocks, is cantankerous on hills, prone to overheating and loaded with clatters and clanks. Definitely not the “best” of vehicles!
         Fortunately, Kate has a cell phone so she kept us apprised of their progress. Her first report came at about 2:30 p.m. when she called to say they had been driving in circles in San Jose, confused by the new one-way streets. The good news was they had finally found the route out of town and were heading for Atenas, which should take perhaps another hour. When they arrived, she called for further directions. Now remember, we have no addresses here, nor even many street names so here’s what we tell the taxi drivers: Alto del Monte, pasado Cantina Linda Vista, la casa con muro de piedras grande, which means the barrio of Alto del Monte, past the Linda Vista bar, the house with the big rock wall. Think you could find us?
         They would have been all right except for Goldie overheating on the steep grades leading to our location. When they stopped to ask directions, somehow Gilberto failed to fully engage the emergency brake and suddenly Kate, still in the car combing her hair, realized it was rolling backwards! She managed to untangle herself from bags and purse enough to get her foot on the brake, stopping just inches from the small store where they had parked. When she called again, she was a bit flustered from the near miss but eventually, with no more mishaps, they arrived at our gate.
         We spent a lovely evening, talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. My Spanish improved by leaps and bounds, thanks to Gilberto’s persistence and Kate’s translations. I had made a Creamy Chorizo and Chicken soup and, of course, Gallo Pinto for dinner, which we devoured out on the patio, watching a magnificent sunset. Although I know they love their cool climate and secluded bungalow up in the mountains, I do think they both appreciated the warm ocean breezes that allowed us to linger outside for hours.
         In our front yard, there are some mysterious fruit trees that Layne and I have wondered about, being lemony in appearance but varying in color from green to orange to yellow, and in size from small as limes to grapefruit huge. I asked Gilberto what they were and he proceeded to pluck a few and prepare a wonderful drink he called “fresco,” which is a generic term apparently for many fresh fruit drinks here. He chopped up some fresh ginger, unpeeled, and whirled that along with a small amount of water in our blender. Then he squeezed juice from the fruits, the names of which I never fully grasped, and added that plus a raw sugar product called “dulce.” After straining this liquid, the result was one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever tasted! 
         That afternoon we took a walk down the road through the small Tico village here. With the advantages of having two Spanish-speaking friends along who could converse easily with the locals, we learned some fascinating history about our barrio and particularly the street on which Layne and I take our regular hikes. It turns out that this narrow road was once the main highway down which the now-famous colorfully painted oxcarts carried loads of coffee beans from San Jose to the port of Puntarenas. Although parts of it have asphalt covering now, much of the original stone and concrete surface remains visible, as seen in the photo below. A local hombre named Oscar (shown on the right in the photo) chatted with Gilberto for fifteen minutes or more, laying out historical details of the area. He himself had been born, he said, in the first house on the road, a dilapidated wooden structure which we pass each day on our walks.
         With Semana Santa (Easter or Holy Week) coming up, Oscar mentioned that this road in past years would be bumper to bumper with Ticos heading for the beaches. Now that better roads have been built around the country, especially the new Caldera Toll Road, the traffic here is sparse and the neighborhood quiet and peaceful.
         On Friday, we all piled into Goldie and headed for Atenas for a delicious breakfast at Kay’s Gringo café and to allow Kate to exchange some of her enormous book collection at Kay’s lending library. Afterwards, Layne and I headed to the ferias (markets) and Kate and Gilberto took off for a short visit with his son who lives here. From there, they would return to La Estrella, hopefully with good memories of a visit to our tropical paradise and its colorful Costa Rican history.

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