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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Giant Grasshopper Attack and Other Costa Rican Excitement

Life is sure full of surprises here, some quite dramatic. The other morning as I was sitting out front putting on my shoes before our walk, I had one such experience. Because of the rains lately, I had taken to leaving my walking shoes on the front porch to avoid tracking mud inside. As I pushed my socked foot down into the shoe, I felt a lump by my little toe. Wondering what could be the cause, I pulled off the shoe and was shocked when a huge insect jumped out and right onto my shirt! I screamed, threw down the shoe and quickly knocked the creature off. It was only a big 3-inch grasshopper but, poor fellow, he took the worst of it as I fear I injured his legs when my foot pressed against him. Still, in my rush to be rid of him, I pushed him off the porch into the grass without memorializing him with a photograph. Needless to say, I have stopped leaving shoes outside.
         A more enjoyable surprise of late was when sitting here at my desk, I glanced out the window and noticed a very large, beautiful green-toned bird sitting on the tree limb. I wanted to grab the camera and take a shot but I knew that he would fly away if I opened the back door, so I settled for studying him carefully enough to locate a photo online. Adding to the day’s amazements, we then spied the same kind of bird while on our walk down the hill. This one perched in trees nearby, always just out of sight for a photo, then landed on the ground where I could almost - but not quite - get the camera focused on his stunning feathers. As we strolled the grounds of Capre Verde apartments at the bottom of the hill, we noticed another strolling critter: a large Iguana. He stopped long enough to give us the eye and for me to shoot his picture before scurrying under the curb. Those are the kind of surprises I like!
         Another pleasant discovery in our first month here has been the growing friendship with our landlords, Odilie and Eduardo. They have proven to be a delightful couple who share many of our interests and some common values. One evening last week, we invited them to meet us “at the rancho,” the covered barbeque area near the swimming pool, for dinner. Back on the day we moved into this apartment, Odie had driven us to PriceSmart to shop and we had bought some bacon-wrapped filet mignons - six for $12, or $2 each. In our first sample, we found them to be quite tasty and we wanted to share them with Odie and Eduardo. Over dinner of the filets and grilled organic zucchini, we laughed and chatted like old friends. Odie described her childhood in a poor family here in Costa Rica where she was working cleaning houses by age nine. Her mother, however, had a vision for her children. Understanding the value of education, she insisted on good grades -- nothing less than a B would do, Odie said. With those good grades as ammunition, her mother applied for scholarships for Odie and her sister and the two young women won an educational trip to the United States. That experience, Odie said, made all the difference. She now runs a successful Spanish language school here in Atenas, which brings people from the United States, Canada and beyond to learn the language in a community-based, interactive program, becoming fully immersed in the Latin culture of Costa Rica.
         Her story led us to a broader discussion of the importance of education in improving people’s lives around the world. I introduced her and Eduardo to the micro-finance concept so well embodied by, my favorite charity, which makes micro-loans to people in developing countries, who cannot qualify for regular bank loans, so that they can grow their small businesses. I told her that the loans that I make are often influenced by the personal stories of each entrepreneur. If the businessperson talks of wanting to build their grocery store or sewing business or farm in order to send their children to school, that individual is very often the recipient of my modest $25 contribution. I mentioned that one of my loan recipients lives right here in Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast and I expressed my desire to go meet that woman and see her operation in person. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make that trip.
         One recent development that is not exactly a surprise is the successful completion of our residency file. That is because our attorney Monika about whom I’ve written here before is so competent and thorough. At her appointment at Migracion on September 13th, our paperwork was deemed satisfactory and we are now legal to stay here beyond the tourista limit of 90 days. Because of the backlog of applicants, it will be about two more months before we get our cedula, the card that proves our legal resident standing.
         On Saturday night we celebrated our new status and braved the continual weekend rains to join two dozen other dedicated music lovers at Kay’s Gringo Postre for her monthly dance party. Layne and I are popular with this crowd due to our energetic footwork and our reliable participation. The one dance we don’t join in, however, is the inevitable “YMCA” line dance with its goofy, but hilarious arm work, forming the letters of the title in rapid-fire timing. But Kay and several zealous women dancers put on an enthusiastic display for the rest of us. As usual, it was a fun evening!
         So now we are preparing for a journey tomorrow across the Central Valley that will undoubtedly be full of surprises. Although we have never met our hostess Desiree in person, we discovered via email and telephone calls that we have much in common. I originally contacted her after seeing her moniker “CdnMorganGal” on the Association of Residents of Costa Rica forum website. I read that as someone with Morgan horses like me so I got in touch through the forum message system. Through a series of emails, I learned that Desiree is a Canadian and that indeed she does have Morgans up north. Since moving here with her husband Tim a year or so ago, she has bought or rescued three Costa Rican ponies as well as a couple of cows. She is even making her own cheese! They have purchased some thirteen acres of land and built a home near Turrialba, where the active Turrialba Volcano belches smoke and steam on a regular basis. That alone will make the trip rich with excitement, no doubt. But we also plan a visit to her friends’ biodynamic farm (see my travel article on biodynamic gardening), a hike down to her very own 90-foot waterfall and perhaps a Saturday night dance party in nearby La Suiza. Sounds like we should expect the unexpected!
(Remember, you can click on the photos to enlarge.)

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