Friday, July 25, 2008

Every-Other Days

To give a true sense of what it’s like living in Costa Rica -- and to dispel beliefs that we’re living some sort of dreamy tropical existence -- let me describe the “every-other” days when Luc and I don’t go with Pat to our property.

The days start a little later – usually 5:15 instead of 4:45 – with Luc springing out of bed and begging Patrick to bring him along. Luc is cajoled back into my bed with promises of 6 o’clock pancakes, and by 6:15, the maple syrup is flowing.

By 6:30, we’re fully awake, and the laundry is in the machine. Because there’s limited drying time these rainy days, clothes washing is the first order of business. As the cycles click through their rotation, Luc and I share a good hour of focused together-time. It’s my favorite time of the day, and I’m not sure which of us is having more fun face-painting, decorating the cardboard playhouse, playing hide-and-seek and reading books.

When the laundry is ready to be hung, a little puppy who has adopted us as his benefactors has usually arrived at our doorstep. We call him “Flacko”, which means skinny in Spanish, since when he first showed up he was a starving waif of a thing. Lucas and Flacko are fast friends, and the two of them spend hours amusing themselves and getting into endless amounts of trouble around the yard.

At 8:30, Dora the Explorer and her cousin Diego come on TV, and Luc is allowed to watch to get his ear accustomed to Spanish. This also gives me some time to do the remaining chores in peace. I wash the dishes with hot water from the shower (yes, we now have hot water – Horay!), sweep & mop the floor, and make the beds. I feel like a real “Tica” (Costa Rican woman) the way I’ve learned to wield a mop. Of course, I curse my way through the entire routine, but with amount of dust and the bugs in the house, cleaning really can’t be ignored.

After his shows are over, Luc is usually ready to call on the neighbor kids. Because the school-day is split and there is such a wide age-range of kids living up the hill, there’s usually always someone home to play with. Sometimes, if Lola, the neighbors’ cow, is in the road, Luc needs me to accompany him past her and her unusually long tongue with its sticky lick…

For the next hour and a half or so, I have some free time to work on the Internet. The connection is extremely SLOW, so it’s a good to have a chunk of time. It takes about 10 minutes to upload one photo to Flickr - Ugh!

At 11:30, it’s time to entice Luc back home for a bath (he’s inevitably covered with mud) and lunch. Patrick returns soon after, and by 12:00, we all feel like we’ve put in a full day’s work and are ready for siesta (all of us except Luc!).

After a good strong cup of Costa Rican coffee, we can usually rally for our afternoon business and errands in town. Luc usually crashes in the car, so I sit and read a book while Patrick runs every-which-way meeting with architects, lawyers, construction workers, and municipal officials. It’s a man’s world here, and combined with my shaky Spanish, I’m pretty much useless in these matters. It’s frustrating, but I’m trying not to let it get to me too much. I’ll find my niche eventually…

We’re home by 5:00 to get dinner ready and watch CNN. We’re all completely spent by 7:00, and while Luc drifts off, we try our darnedest to push through ‘til 9:00 – often unsuccessfully.

That’s our life in a nutshell! It’s no secret that I prefer our jungle days to my housewife days, but it’s all part of the bargain here. Thankfully, unlike a true Tica, I do have a break from household chores and I have managing a resort business to look forward to in my future. At the moment, though, I hear thunder in the distance, so if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go take down the laundry.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mountain High

In 1998, Patrick and his mother purchased 24 acres of mountain property with a distant view of the ocean on the Southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The property has essentially 12 flat, build-able acres at the top of the mountain, and then it plunges over the edge descending almost vertically to the river below.

About twenty years ago, the flat area was cultivated for coffee, but the steep mountainside was never disturbed for farming and remains thick primary forest. Of course, a lot can grow in twenty years, and even the former coffee fields have become secondary forest now, with a full canopy creating ample shade. The property is home to a wide range of wildlife, from snakes and lizards, to monkeys, agoutis, and shockingly-blue Morpho butterflies.

Plans for the property include creating nine small housing lots for sale on part of the build-able area, and creating a “mountain retreat and spa”, complete with restaurant, pool, nature trails and lookout platforms on the other. We hope to become a day-escape for locals (ex-pats and well-to-do Ticos) and vacationers who want to relax in a beautiful, serene, environment.

Having lived here for a year before (and in Pat’s case, two years), we know exactly what needs to be done in order to get things moving as quickly as possible. The first item on the agenda is cleaning out the underbrush and making things ready for the trucks to come in and dig the road and level the construction areas. Pat has hired five guys to help him chop and groom, and after two weeks of work from 6:00 am to 1:00 pm (when the rain usually starts), the task is almost complete.

Three days a week, Luc and I have been tagging along – mostly to get Luc accustomed to the jungle (and to keep me from going crazy in the house all day!). It’s been a real treat for me to be able to explore with him for hours at a time, and we’ve found a wide array of crazy-looking bugs. In just two weeks, Luc has morphed from a tentative, mud-hating, city boy into a grubby little Tarzan who can recognize toucans by their calls alone. In the same amount of time, I’ve changed from working, weekend-only mom to a full-time teacher, protector and friend. The transformation hasn’t been entirely easy, but I don’t think Pat and I will regret the decision to be the ones to introduce our kid to the wonderful world outdoors.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

La Casa Nuestra

The house we’re renting for the next year and a half while our project is being built is more-or-less a typical Costa Rican “casa”. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Costa Rican architecture and design, that means we’re living in a brightly-painted (in our case, orange) cement and wood house with a tin roof and tiled floors. The rooms are square and basic -- closets, shelving, and cabinets are non-existent. The lighting is florescent, which prompted Patrick to comment that our bedroom looks like a Columbian whorehouse (Knowledge he gained only from movies, of course). Our open kitchen is in the back of the house to keep the smoke from the wood-burning oven out, but unfortunately, a nice variety of insects find their way in! We have quite a large bathroom, but with no hot water, we have yet to use the shower. We’ve been heating buckets on the stove until we get the “suicide shower head” installed – a contraption that warms the water with electrical current as it slowly flows through.

What makes our house un-typical is that with its five bedrooms, paved driveway, telephone line, and satellite dish, it’s quite a bit “fancier” than the neighbors’. With the washing machine and dryer we added, and the stereo and decorations we sent from DC, the place is perfectly comfortable. We feel very fortunate to have found it through local friends, and at $150 a month, it’s a hard deal to beat!

The best part of the house is its location. We’re a seven minute drive off the main road in the middle of farm country. We wake up to the sounds of cows and chickens, and there’s a stream that runs past our front yard. There’s a coffee plantation in back, and banana trees galore. It’s very peaceful, and we haven’t heard an ambulance, car horn, or garbage truck since moving in. Lucas is thrilled to have a large family living next door with about eight little kids to play with, and with their help, we hope his Spanish with come along quickly.

Life is slow here in the country, but we have time to think, listen to the birds, play with our kid, and spend time with friends. What more could we ask for? Well, a little hot water would be nice…

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Circuitous Route

It’s been a month-long journey, but we’re finally here in Costa Rica! We came by way of France and Massachusetts (again) on our way to San Jose. En route, Lucas managed to pick up chicken pox, which struck in full force as we were meandering through the market stalls of St. Tropez, and Kate came down with a nasty case of strep throat on the day before our Costa Rica flight (and about five days after our health insurance ran out). Let’s just say that we now have plenty of material for a Michael Moore “Sicko” sequel, but we’ll leave that for another day. On the bright side, there’s nothing like being sick at your parents’ house and realizing that Mom and Dad can still make everything OK:)

By the time we left Massachusetts at 3:00 a.m. last Saturday morning, we had four very heavy suitcases, and three carry-ons containing our most important possessions. While Patrick and I carried birth certificates, property titles, and expensive electronic equipment, Lucas clung tight to his backpack holding Nanou the stuffed dog, Dora the Explorer videos, and a Go Fish game. As we staggered to the ticket counter to check our bags, the woman behind the desk informed us blankly that the airline had an embargo on bags weighing more than 50 pounds - which applied to three of our four suitcases. After several moments of panic (which in Kate’s case was a “feverish panic”), we were told we could purchase a duffel bag and unload the excess weight from each bag into it. Although we were relived to have found a solution, it was quite an ordeal to rifle through and select the heaviest items from each bag with a line of 200 impatient travelers looking on behind us. It was kind of like realizing too late that you haven’t brought enough cash to the grocery store and have to decide what items to put back. If you don’t know that feeling, you’re lucky – it isn’t pleasant!

Thankfully, the rest of our trip was smooth sailing. After about 350 hands of Go Fish, and 20 trips to the airplane potty (with its really cool flush), we arrived in San Jose with all our bags. It was a circuitous route, but we’re really here. And this time, it’s for good. Hola, Costa Rica!