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Friday, September 24, 2010

Hikes in the Hills and Other Thrills

         We’re anticipating major rains here this weekend spinning off of Tropical Storm Matthew, which is now aiming at the Honduras-Nicaraguan border north of us. Well north of us, fortunately, but there is still a forecast of heavy showers locally along with some high winds. Indeed, there is quite a downpour even now, here on Friday afternoon, fat raindrops rattling through the foliage all around our apartment. I guess that means little or no swimming pool time for me. But Costa Rica is blessed to be located south of the hurricane pathways that crisscross the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, sparing it the worst of those tropical storms. We’ll batten down the hatches, as they say, and pull out a good book to read.
         We will miss our morning walks, of course. Usually, even during the rainy season, the mornings are gloriously sunny and just warm enough for tank tops and shorts. Our neighborhood lends itself to a good hike, offering either the almost level dirt lane leading to the main street of Barrio Los Angeles with its neat homes, flower-festooned sidewalks and a couple of pulperias, or small stores, or alternatively the steep downhill asphalt road into a valley below. It is this much more challenging way that Layne and I have chosen lately in order to build our aerobic conditioning and explore the jungle down the hill. The incline is severe at the beginning of our walk, requiring switchbacks for automobiles to navigate the precipitous slope. On one recent morning following a night of steady sprinkles, I picked up a broken limb to use as a walking stick to counter any unwelcome slide down the slick roadway. About halfway down is a puzzling sign offering ice cream for sale: Se Venden Helados. With no houses in sight, we are mystified as to where this treat might be found. Across from the sign, a narrow two-track trail leads off toward a small house in the distance, almost hidden from view by the canopy. Perhaps the ice cream stand is there and one must earn the indulgence in calories by hiking into the forest.
         At the bottom of the hill, or at least as far down as we have yet traveled, is a gated apartment complex named Capre Verde from which our street gets its name, sporting a large covered pavilion just inside the open gates. So far, we’ve never seen anyone around so we are unsure as to whether it’s actually inhabited. Indeed, since the swimming pools appear to be covered in blue tarps, we have our doubts.
         Along the road are banana and palm trees, yucca plants and hibiscus in abundance along with many other unknown flora. One plot of land supports a cornfield with rows of dried stalks standing guard. One day as I strolled by, our older neighbor was hacking the stalks down with his machete. I wanted to take a picture but it seemed intrusive or too touristy. Instead, I called out a friendly “Buenos!” and we exchanged pleasantries in my broken Spanish. Then I noticed this unusual succulent growing out of the top of a dying tree by the road. How it got there, I can’t imagine. Perhaps a bird deposited a seed from a distant cactus that took root in the detritus of the rotting branches. Just another miracle of growth in this fertile paradise.
         Truly things do grow apace here. On Independence Day, September 15th, just over a week ago, I planted a few seeds that we brought from the U.S. and within three or four days, the seedlings had sprouted. Already I have heirloom tomatoes a half-inch tall, three basil sprouts, several turnip greens and a couple of tomatillos showing their heads. The jalapenos are yet to bud but since our return in late August, we have found fresh jalapenos at the local feria, or farmer’s market, so we are no longer jalapeno-deprived as we were last spring.
         Besides the feria and the organic feria (See March 15 blog post), we most often shop at Coopeatenas Supermercado. As we understand, Coopeatenas is part of a large local cooperative that grows and markets its own award-winning brand of coffee, La Villa, manages the bus line between Atenas and San Jose and Atenas and Alajuela and operates the only gas station in town. But recently, we discovered a hidden jewel of a grocery right in downtown that carries a large inventory of somewhat gourmet items. At Mercado Canario I found rice vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce and bay leaves, things I use in the more exotic dishes that we enjoy. We had only seen a narrow front opening on the main street so we were amazed to find just how well-stocked the long aisles were that led deep back into the store.
         We usually do our shopping in the mornings so we are back home before the afternoon rains. The early evening cocktail hour often finds us in the wooden rockers on the front porch on the lookout for visiting wildlife. Lately in the trees beyond the orchard, we have been entertained by huge flocks of gorgeous green parrots, which chatter like magpies as they swoop between the branches. My efforts to sneak down the driveway and catch a picture of them have been unsuccessful as they either hide very effectively in the greenery or simply fly away. You’ll just have to use your imagination on that one. 

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