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Monday, March 22, 2010

Storm Clouds, Coffee Silos and New Amigos

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy First Day of Spring! Here in Costa Rica we are apparently heading into the rainy season already. Last night we sat out on our patio sharing a bottle of Chilean wine with our Gringo neighbor, watching the lightning flash across the nearby mountains and hearing the thunder roll. When the rains arrived, it was pretty torrential for a while so we moved indoors. Of course, I actually like the dramatic weather and with the overhang covering part of our terrace, we can enjoy these tropical downpours without getting wet. As we head into late afternoon here today, the distant thunder has begun again and clouds are moving in so more showers are likely tonight.
         When we rented this place some four miles outside the town of Atenas, we thought we were at some distance from any real neighborhood. But it turns out that we reside in a small community known as Alto del Monte (loosely translated as “high on the mountain”), a Tico area with a few long-time Gringos residents scattered about. On Saturday as we headed out for our walk, we met the same tall, lanky American with whom we had shared a taxi on our Friday trip to town, walking up the steep driveway of our next door neighbor’s beautiful estate. It turns out Bob works as a gardener for the Gringo/Tico family that has this elegant home adjoining our more modest property. Bob and his Tica wife Ellie and their two charming young daughters have a lovely small home on the slope just above the road along which we take our almost-daily stroll. An interesting feature of this street is the old coffee silo along the side of the road located just below the ubiquitous rows of coffee plants on the hillsides. 
         As we stopped to chat, Bob invited us to a neighborhood event that night, a party with music and dancing and chicharrones (a barbequed pork dish) being held as a benefit for the local school. We had often walked by the tiny schoolhouse without realizing what it was, although it sports a Costa Rican flag out front and has a sign up for Bingo on Sundays. According to Bob, who volunteers at the school teaching English one day a week, there are only 16 students in the single classroom, ranging from first through sixth grades. He tells us that they have six students graduating this year and only two new pupils next year. Small, indeed!
         Later that day, we headed to town to pick up a few items and as we wandered along, I noticed a darling dress in a store window. I’ve been hoping to find some light-weight cotton dresses like I see on so many attractive Ticas so in we went and with some strategic encouragement by the salesgirls, we bought two vestidos, one in denim and another in a turquoise blue and light purple print with a plunging neckline that seemed perfect for the party. We’ve noticed how much cleavage Costa Rican women tend to display, young and old, so I felt like I’d fit right in! As my great-grandmother always said, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!
         That evening, as we made our way down the road toward the schoolyard, we could hear the Latin rhythms and the sound of laughter ahead. The luscious smell of roasting pork greeted us, along with a group of smiling Ticos. We soon found Bob and his daughters eating dinner at a picnic table and were delighted with his kids’ excellent English and gregarious manner. Seated along with Bob was a young Gringo named Dan who is working for an international program that will be sending volunteers soon. His job is to scout out the communities and determine what the most pressing needs are. Dan is living at the estate next door to us and it has been his daily swims in the pool that we’ve observed, including his signature back flip dive. 
         It would have been bad form for us to take photos so you’ll just have to take my word that the evening had the feel of a classic Tico fiesta with the cerveza flowing and much good cheer all around. We met numbers of our neighbors, such as Norma, a beautiful woman with curly black hair who remembered us from a chance meeting on the road a few days earlier when she was carrying her small nino in a sling on her chest. We also met her handsome 20’ish son Miguel, illustrating the range of her children's ages. Later I got into a conversation in Spanish (if you can call my limited vocabulary a “conversation”) with Carlos, an older gentleman whose nice home we pass on our walks down the road. Some kind of flowers in his yard give off a most enchanting fragrance but we have no idea what they are. He called his sister over and we enjoyed a few laughs as I struggled to understand their patient efforts to communicate. They were delightful!
         Among the Gringos present at the party were Kitty and Bruce, who own a fabulous big red-roofed house at the end of the road, which we can see from our hilltop chalet. We were thrilled to learn that they do animal rescue here and provide dog and cat immunizations and spay and neuter clinics virtually free to local residents. In fact, they have some 22 animals in their care at present. They also provide services to horses and cattle.
         According to Kitty, it has been a slow but steady educational process, aimed mostly at the children, to sensitize them to the need for better care of their companion animals. “I tell them,” she said, “just as you feel bad when you get sick, so does your dog. And your mom takes you to the doctor, right? Well, you need to take your dog to the doctor, too.”
         The number of strays we’ve seen here in Costa Rica and their poor condition has been of deep concern to Layne and me, especially back in San Rafael de Heredia, where homeless dogs wandered the streets. I look forward to working with Kitty in her ongoing efforts to improve the lives of the animals here. The next clinic is April 4th and I expect to be there, holding doggy paws and comforting kittens.

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