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Friday, March 19, 2010

Monster Moths in a Mountain Cabin

Friday, March 19, 2010
(Click on photos to enlarge)

Nothing like a trip away to make you appreciate “home,” at least weather-wise. We returned last night from a two-day visit to a small pueblo in the mountains outside Cartago where our friends Kate and Gilberto reside in their hand-built rustic bungalow, surrounded by jungle and filled with local artwork. Kate (aka Kathi Galante) is Layne’s ex-wife, his first spouse of some 40-plus years ago, and Gilberto is her Spanish-speaking Tico husband. Kate tells us that the locals find her and Gilberto’s friendship with us odd indeed since they are immersed in a machismo culture from an early age and cordial relations with exes is almost unheard of. But from my first acquaintance with them four years ago on our initial trip to Costa Rica, I found Kate and Gilberto absolutely delightful! She is a linguistic genius, the master of several languages, and he is a dashing Latin hombre of many talents, from mechanical device repair to philosophy to fine art. Plus, over many years Kate has cultivated a unique and valuable role in their small village of La Estrella (which means “The Star”) by developing a wonderful theater program for the children. She showed us photos from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which they did a few years ago, with adorable kids in brightly colored satin costumes (made, of course, by a local Tica mother) dancing about on the small stage in the village community center. Using lush green branches from regional tropical plants adorned with twinkling holiday lights, she and the children had created a perfect backdrop for the fairy dancers. As her next production, Kate hopes to produce “Beauty and the Beast,” but she qualifies that ambitious goal with the following caveat: she will attempt it IF she can muster the energy once again to re-write and condense the script for children and for a small theater, choreograph and teach the dances, handle the rehearsals (in spite of some obstructionism from the local priest who doesn’t fully approve of these goings-on) and mount the production - all for only one performance, as that is the size of this small town audience. It’s an inspiration to see how much she accomplishes having so little with which to work and how much the children adore her. Our sombreros are off to her and her sweet and competent assistant Jessica!
         La Estrella sits in a tiny valley far up in the mountains of Costa Rica, with the blue-and-white metal Catholic Church, small school and soccer field centered in the basin and colorful but modest Tico houses scattered up the steep hillsides. Kate and Gilberto’s home is far up the mountain, so high on a ridge they have views of another valley on the backside of the house. The weather is cool, the air moist with cloud cover much of the time. I found myself in layers of tee shirt, sweatshirt and long pants, wondering how Kate could be comfortable in a light cotton dress. She claims that I would get adjusted to the temperatures, but somehow I doubt it. I was very happy to return to the warm and balmy climate here in Atenas.
         Insects were our constant companions in La Estrella. Kate claims the vast majority of the animals in this beautiful country are the creepy-crawly kind. Some were gorgeous, such as the huge Atlas moth, as big as a man’s hand, which first parked on the wall, then landed on a lamp and later flew around over dinner. Believe me, it is quite exotic to dine with such a fabulously beautiful creature hovering nearby! Others were very strange, including a preying mantis-type animal that was so thin and twig-like, I never would have guessed it to be a living creature except that Gilberto called me to the window and pointed it out, laughing at my amazed reaction.
         The bus ride back from La Estrella was an adventure in itself. The views were incredible, at every turn lush green mountains covered in tropical trees, occasional cattle in verdant pastures, tiny mountain villages, sheer cliffs along which our driver edged oh-so-close to the precipitous rim. But we never felt in danger, despite the steep terrain. Still, our efforts to take photos were foiled by the bumpy dirt road and the hairpin curves.
         We were fortunate in all our bus connections: La Estrella to Cartago, Cartago to San Jose, San Jose to Atenas, all in about three hours, costing only $12.50 for both of us. We love the Costa Rica bus system! When we arrived, our little chalet looked very welcoming, sunshine streaming in and a brisk breeze blowing. It was good to be home.
         Today we headed into town for the feria, or farmers’ market. On the way, our taxi was slowed by a police roadblock, the result of a car theft in our neighborhood earlier today. Although we weren’t happy with that news, we were impressed with the quick police action. You wouldn’t find a police barricade on Los Angeles streets after a simple car theft!
         We picked up the organic order we placed last week of broccoli and spinach, green onions, fresh wheat bread, eggs and pina (pineapple) chutney then walked a few blocks to the park where numerous local vendors had their home-grown products on display. There we picked up fresh corvina (sea bass) for dinner along with bananas, chilies dulce (sweet chilies) and some homemade cookies. It promises to be a delicious meal this evening! 

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