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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Toucan Welcoming Committee

(Note to readers: Click on photos to enlarge.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

         Much has happened, both good and bad, since my last post. Although I was past the worst of the intestinal distress by Saturday afternoon, Layne’s difficulties lasted another two days, forcing us to contemplate a trip to a Costa Rican doctor. Then on Monday, I was hit with a nameless malaise that had me in bed with chills and general misery but with few specific symptoms. We still don’t know what caused my discomfort but it served as a lesson on the perils of food in foreign countries, not that we really know what food it was. Different people, different symptoms; still it made us nervous about eating out. Even in Costa Rica, where the water is good and the people are clean, it gives one pause. I was certainly glad when by Tuesday morning, I was beginning to pull out of it.
         And none too soon since our much-anticipated moving day was coming right up. On Wednesday morning, after turning in our keys at Villa Roma, we loaded our hired van up with luggage and headed for Atenas where our real estate friends, Dennis and Gerardo, were awaiting our arrival to drive us to the new casa. Our charming landlady Hazel was here with beautiful cut flowers and fresh bananas to greet us in this lovely chalet. But when we tried to pay our rent with American Express Travelers Checks, we learned that the banks in Costa Rica have a policy of holding such payments for anywhere from 25 to 45 days! Needless to say, Hazel was hoping for a rent payment in dollars or colones. After some deliberation, Hazel offered to take us to the bank in town in the hopes of changing the travelers checks into negotiable cash. So off we went in her well-traveled Jeep-type vehicle, banging over the rough spots with aplomb.
         No problem at the bank! With Layne’s passport and signature on the checks, we soon had our month’s rent paid in colones and were off to the super-mercado (grocery store) for some shopping while Hazel patiently waited for us outside, drinking a cerveza and making real estate calls. Talk about a great landlady!
         We arrived back at our new home and with drink in hand, moved outside to the terrace to begin our new life in Atenas. And what a life it promises to be! Our chalet is positioned high on a cliff so that birds fly by at eye level. We soon had hummers, brown robins, yellow-breasted somethings, an occasional blue bird of some sort and completely manic swallows, flitting here and there capturing bugs for their dinner. The sun was setting over the Pacific against a haze of clouds and the breeze was wafting up the canyon, cooling the late afternoon warmth. As I glanced over Layne’s shoulder, I recognized a Toucan that had just landed in our backyard tree! What an exotic sight with his magnificent curved beak and colorful breast. Then three more joined him, hopping from limb to limb. Four Toucans in our garden! What is this? Paradise?
         The “sounds of life” here are amazing - frogs, crickets, birds of all voices from chirpers to cacklers. We even have a big brown robin that visits our garden for worms and bugs, bravely hopping along only a few feet from us. (He’s here right now as I write this.)  This morning I watched him pounce on a worm and gobble it up before the wiggler knew what hit it!
         But the most incredible sound last night had us fooled. As the late afternoon sun faded in the distance, we began to hear a loud bird or … what? A sound like we had never heard before started out in chopping sounds and swelled into a shrieking continuous howl that actually made Layne’s hearing aide noise circuits cut out! What the heck was that? We tried to imagine a bird that could possible create such a noise! Well, today we learned it was undoubtedly a howler monkey. Indeed, they are out again tonight and add a unique, if raucous, sound to the evening’s entertainment. We surmise that they live in the dense jungles below us.
         This morning I was awakened just before seven a.m. by the certain sound of gunfire - two, three shots fired just below our property. What on earth? Since there was no going back to sleep, I arose to make coffee and see what was happening in the neighborhood. As I looked out over the railing, I saw several men beneath the trees handling a large heavy carcass, obviously a cow. While I watched in fascination, the men pulled and tugged on the legs of the animal to turn it on its back as another man began to cut the dead animal down the center of its belly. This was more than I could stand to watch but clearly, they had just harvested one of their cattle for meat and were about to butcher it.
         Over the course of the morning, we checked on their progress and sure enough, working as a team, the five or six men skinned and carved the cow into its edible parts and carried them away. As we sipped our coffee, we watched as dozens of vultures began to circle above, heads cocked to watch the progress below them. Numbers of them perched, vulture-like, in a dead tree nearby, waiting and watching. At one point, the men threw some of the innards into a clearing and the hungry birds quickly swooped in to devour it. Then after all the inedible parts had been collected, another man, with the last of the guts in a wheelbarrow, hauled it down to the clearing for the birds to clean up. As the men - and we - watched, some thirty or forty or more birds converged on the waste parts, fighting greedily, beaks viciously pulling each piece apart.
         By now, the men had become aware of us watching them and we’d joined them in laughing at the gluttonous vultures and waving down at them in camaraderie. For after all, this cow had had a good life on open pasture, was not subjected to cruel and filthy stockyard treatment, had no antibiotics or poisons in its system and had been fortunate to receive a quick and humane death. Now, in the way of nature, it would be used to perpetuate the lives of other creatures. It may not have been pretty but it was a very educational and somewhat profound experience. Pura Vida indeed.

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