Sunday 26 December 2010

The season of goodwill is with us.....

It has to be...the difficult neighbour has not...yet...cut off the water supply to the thirty households and businesses which use it.

He is a gentleman predictable in some ways - general bloody mindedness - while unpredictable in others - you know he's going to do something but when and what is another matter.

He was his father's favourite and in order to cut out the rest of his brothers and sisters from the inheritance the father sold him the main family finca of over two hundred hectares at an undervalue.
That was some twenty years ago and in that time he has managed to reduce the number of hectares from two hundred to eight and makes a living by transporting cattle from the local auction.
Still, to mark his status as a landowner he wears a hat...not the floppy sombrero of the worker, but the crisp white hat with curly brim worn by those buying and selling the cattle he can now only transport.

However, while of impeccable Costa Rican lineage, his attitude to property and money is closer to that of Papua New Guinea...where you might well agree to sell your property but when you have spent the money brought in by the transaction you want the property back.
After all, it was an exchange, was it for land? So when the money no longer exists you get the land back.
Simple when you think about it.

So he thinks of himself as the owner of the one hundred and ninety two hectares which have been sold off over the years to fuel a life of drinking in bars, entertaining ladies other than his wife and consequently being obliged by the courts to support his illegitimate children........ while those legitimately occupying the one hundred and ninety two hectares are, in his eyes, squatters.

Every so often the injustice of it all overcomes him...especially when his current lady friend has deprived him of her favours until his financial affairs which point he goes for the water supply.

This supply was originally put in by his father, who had a state licence to extract water from the spring high up on the mountain which dominates the three valleys below.
It originally served only his finca but, as land was sold off, each new proprietor had access to the system, through a series of tanks and pipes, carefully categorised by inch, half inch and quarter inch rights.

There are a number of users, as the original plots sold off have become split up in their turn as families expand and build houses for their children. A pig farm has been set up and one chap breeds tilapia.

By law, the owner of the licence cannot charge for the water supplied to others...water is a natural resource...and the neighbour became frustrated when even those unwary enough to have paid him once were put wise and refused further payments, so he decided not to pay the annual fee for the state licence...a sum so small as to be risible.

So, the current state of play is that no one has any proprietorial rights to the water...but his view is that the water, like the land, is his to do with as he pleases so when vexed with the injustices of life, when the contrast  between the status denoted by a crisp white hat with a curly brim and the reality of driving a lorry for a living gets too much he takes action.

If he is fuelled by drink, he just goes up to the top meadows and opens the taps in the field used for cattle...thus cutting off everyone below including himself.
If the dibs are not in tune and he cannot afford drink, then he goes right up to the source and blocks the main tank....same consequences as to water cut off, but this gives him the chance to work down the mountain from tank to tank, pushing wooden bungs into everyone's pipes so that when some of the men go up to clear the first blockage, all the others remain, with all the consequent problems of air in the pipes to be cleared before everyone is supplied again.

He is a perfect pest.

He has always reckoned to get away with this because in Costa Rica it is next to impossible to take regular court action unless he has been seen by someone..and he is always careful in this respect....but he has not reckoned with the domestic violence courts, set up to protect women, children and the elderly...courts set up to combat the machismo element in Costa Rican popular culture.
These are relatively had never entered his consciousness....and when one lady had had enough of not only the water problem but also of his shouting insults at her and took him to court, a whole box of troubles opened for him.

The insults, the threats, the O.K. Corral scenes with machetes and revolvers, the contamination of the water supply, the blockages....the baggage of years came tumbling out as one person after another joined in to support the first lady.
While a lot of it was not admissible in evidence, the lawyer representing all parties managed to get a lot in under the line.

The neighbour was beside himself.
How dare these inferior beings, wearers of sombreros, confront him, the wearer of the crisp white hat with a curly brim which, inevitably, he was wearing in court.

The first duty of the court is to seek reconciliation and when the judge turned to him to ask him if he were willing to participate in a reconciliation process he threw a fit, shouting insults and abuse...his lawyer was so worried that he would attack the judge that he physically held him down in his seat and told him if he did not control himself the lawyer would leave him to his fate.
His conduct made all the points needed for the judge to provide everyone concerned with protection orders, forbidding him to enter their property or to speak to them.

He will, of course, because he has no control of himself....but, for the moment, peace reigns upon the earth in our small corner of Costa Rica.

Thanks to the anti machismo courts.

Friday 24 December 2010

Reindeer in the tropics

Strolling reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) in the ...Image via Wikipedia
I'm not decking the halls with boughs of holly since

a) this house doesn't have halls, unlike the house in France
b) there is no holly..apart from plastic, that is

However the consumption of mince pies has reached record proportions.

Neighbours, who have invited us to eat tamales and tres leches, have returned the compliment by coming back to ours...first by single spies to reconnoitre the land and then, when no one has died from the offerings of these foreigners, en masse.
And en masse means en masse. Four generations has not been unusual, multiplied by a high birth and survival thank you the Costa Rican National Health Service...the CAJA.
I feel quite embarrassed that we have only two friends to offer in return!

To be fair, this is not the first year we have spent Christmas and New Year here, so our offerings have become accepted and acceptable...other favourites have been Queen of Puddings, sausage rolls, mulled wine, Irish coffee and Christmas cake.
Oh, and Pavlova, which I have now learned to make in one person portions.

This year Ayak's cake recipe...rejoicing in the name of Turkish cake as I gave up trying to explain how I come to have a recipe from a British lady living in Turkey whom I have never met but regard as a good friend....has been a smash hit, so much so that I have used all the packets of preserved figs that have been lurking in the cupboard and will have to buy more!

I have a last minute trip to the capital, San Jose, today, to do odds and bods and to meet friends for coffee and after the last trip I am wondering whether a flak jacket would not be a good idea.

Not against gunshot wounds despite all the bad publicity about San Jose, but to counter reindeer attack.

I have mentioned previously that when walking in San Jose it behoves you to keep your eyes lowered..not from a nun like modesty but to avoid disappearing down a manhole whose cover has been nicked for scrap.
The street vendors...always numerous...are now, at Christmas, multitudinous so that cuts the pavement width by half and while you're busy making sure you don't step in the black plastic sheet displaying illegal DVDs and avoiding the festive sock vendors on one hand and the gentleman with a  pair of odd in the sense of mismatching second hand shoes on the other, while ducking round the armed security guard on the pawn shop - well, you can see which end of town I frequent - you don't need other hazards.

But other hazards there are.

Costa Rica takes Christmas seriously. Houses are illuminated, Father Christmases beam from every front door and swags of foliage and ribbons drape every window.

Shops are not left out...there are even special shops selling Christmas stuff for other shops which spring up in mid November, giving rise to a sharp intake of breath as you round a corner against the prevailing flow of shoppers and find yourself in the presence of about fifty giant inflatable Santas.

These Santas then make their appearance at the doors of shops...on the already overcrowded pavement.....and it was while carrying two shopping bags back to the bus station last week that I found myself executing a rather nifty soft shoe shuffle to avoid a man with a barrowload of pineapple dead ahead and a lady selling sweet peppers to starboard.
It wasn't quite as nifty as I had anticipated as I had reckoned without the family emerging from the butchers to larboard, and all sails aback to avoid this hazard to navigation I bumped into one of the inflatable Santas which was sufficiently inflated to bounce me forward again onto the horns of the fibre glass reindeer which was its companion.

They make them well, these reindeer.

Very solid.

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Saturday 18 December 2010

Perfect timing

Christmas always seems to creep up on me like a dog that has been rolling in next door's pig manure and is not totally sure of its welcome. It thinks it stands a better chance of avoiding the early bath if I don't notice its arrival.

One minute it's Guy Fawkes' Night and the next the Christmas decorations are going up...though here in Costa Rica there is no Guy Fawkes' Night, just the beginning of the summer round of fiestas each heralded by the detonation of what seems like two land mines to start the festivities every day.
The first time I heard this I thought one of the local volcanoes had gone up but I am now acclimatised and can tell by the direction of the explosions whether or not I will be able to see the associated fireworks in the evening.

I've seen some of these things...the land mines that is...and this is no 'light the blue touch paper and retire to Worthing' stuff.
They look like oversized hessian-packed lollypops on inadequate sticks and I would hesitate to approach one of them if running a slight temperature, let alone light the things.
Nerves of steel these Costa Ricans.

Our local fiesta is in full swing..a week of drumming bands, 'twirlers', horse parades, deep fried chunks of pork, beer and...high spot of the evenings, attempting to ride bulls.

For those, like me, who are new to this diversion, a little scene setting might be in order.
Like me, you might not approve of the uses to which animals are put, but if you want to know about local life, it does not behove you to stick your nose in the air and ignore these events. No one will make you go twice.

The whole thing takes place in a circular arena... I suppose inherited from Spain where they like to reduce the odds in favour of the bull in bullfighting and have thus settled on having no corners in which the bull might trap a matador.
The audience sits in the seats raised above the arena, drinking beer and eating...eating...eating....plantain crisps, yucca crisps, even potato crisps... waiting for events to start.

The bulls are not some beasts pulled at random from local farms....there is a whole industry supplying bull riding spectacles to local fiestas and one of its representatives will appear on command with a lorry load of bulls prepared for the arena and much is made if the bulls are from Guanacaste, the northern ranching province of Costa Rica.
Neither are these bulls cast in the image of the bulls of the Spanish arena..they are Brahmas...the ones with floppy ears and dowagers' humps.
There seem to be participants from far away, too, when the names and locations are read out, so I wouldn't be altogether sure that the suppliers of bulls are not also the suppliers of those to ride them...but I don't know enough yet to have any certainty.

It's certainly nothing like the bull running events where a bull is loosed into the arena and men run around him...until the he makes a run himself, at which point the men leg it for the safety barrier with a speed which depends not only on age and fitness but quantity of alcohol consumed.
These are usually local chaps, keen to show off...well, what, exactly?

Their stupidity.....

Their lack of respect for animals.....

Their ability to be a better qualified President of the United States than was Gerald Ford since they can not only walk but run AND eat plantain crisps at the same time....having previously drink taken.
Mark you, most of them have a better grasp of economics than most Presidents of the United States....

However, back to the bull riders.
They present themselves to the public, take lots for which bull will be assigned to them, then kneel, touch the dirt of the arena to their lips with their hand and cross themselves.
So would I cross myself if putting the dirt of that arena to my lips, I can tell you. Tetanus and goodness only knows what might be lurking.

They retire and bull number one...though all have led into the crush. He is adorned with a leather cummerbund linked to a crupper and for some reason a sort of taurine jockstrap is attached therefrom to his balls.
The rider mounts the rails alongside and drops onto the bull's back, grasping the cummerbund, at the moment that the organiser opens the gate and bull and man charge into the arena.

Well, they do if the rider has not misjudged matters and the bull is off without him.
The bull knows his part if the man doesn't.
He rears, bucks and sidesteps in a solo display until a pretty girl on a horse is sent in to lasso him and get him to come back and see if things could not be better co ordinated the next time.

The next rider times it better...he and bull emerge together.
Bull performs his part and the rider sees how long he can stick on.
Not long is the usual answer.....and that's just as well when you see what happens if he does.

These bulls have a sense of time.
They will cavort for no more than three if the man is still up there he looks a little foolish as the bull ceases activity and starts mooching round the arena looking for the exit to his cosy lorry compartment and a good feed.

You can tell the more experienced riders...they leave it until the last minute to fall off to avoid the embarrassment.

So, if you're running short of Christmas ideas, buy yourself one of these bulls at the end of his career, stable him near the kitchen window and let him loose just as the water boils for your breakfast egg.

He'll have a happy retirement and you'll have the perfectly boiled egg.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Coming to Costa Rica..or getting away from France?

checkbox, check box, tickbox, tick boxImage via Wikipedia
Well, both, isn't it obvious?

Not, so it seems, to Madame X, translator to beat all translators, and, in her new manifestation, the English expat version of Madame Recamier in the commune of Ste. Mere Maquerelle in darkest France.

A friend has 'phoned me - thank you Skype - to bring me up to date on the news...local doctor breathalysed by the gendarmes.....surprising reappearance of an expat family who had left France last year for loudly proclaimed better things in Dubai.....dubious quality forecast for this year's local wine....maire found to have fiddled the tenders for local projects (and been prosecuted, which was indeed a wonder, but then his protector lost his seat in the last elections).....Monsieur Soixanteneuf in court for his naughty habits (same protector)....just the normal run of the mill stuff which keeps me in touch with an area where I lived for some years before moving on to another department.

Given the bad weather, attendance was down at Madame X's salon...where she hopes to assist English speaking newcomers to France to adjust to their new culture at a cost of a 20 Euro 'participation'.... but Britain's hardy sons from the same commune had made it and Madame X was apparently very eloquent on the subject of the importance of integration...using me as an object lesson.

Well, I was safely the other side of the Atlantic, wasn't I, so she was safe.

Friend informs me that I am held to have run away from France, unable to cope, because I was unwilling to integrate.
I tried to ignore French society, culture and language(!)  and go my own way.
Worse....hushed tones as mention was made of something sacred....I went where the living was more important to me than the quality of life in France which, as future attendance at the 20 euros a pop... ..would reveal, was beyond price.

What an epitaph for my time in France...used as an advertising tool for Madame X's salon!

So, did  I come to Costa Rica as a positive choice..or was it a bolt hole having not been able to integrate in France?

Well, it was a positive choice...but one that crept up on me.

Some years ago the winter was so vile that we had had enough...other years we had messed off to Turkey or to Egypt, but only for a couple of weeks at a time...but that year it was so cold for so long that we looked for somewhere to forget the French winter..for at least six weeks,which made a long haul flight worthwhile.

There was another motive too.

Climate change, whether man made or part of a natural cycle, was certainly affecting our area.
Colder winters and summers ranging from the very rainy to the extremely hot made life a lot less comfortable than in the earlier years in France, so we were thinking quite seriously about having a holiday home in order to escape the vile winters and thus using this proposed break as a scouting exercise.

But where to look?
It seemed that the best chance of avoiding radical change was to look at the tropics at there were a lot of destinations in the mix.....but climate would not, could not, be the only determinate.
A language we could cope with, a culture which was recognisable, good health provision and the ability to own property directly were important elements which reduced the mix considerably and, although we were initially looking for a bolthole to escape the vile winters, we took into account residency requirements too....which reduced the mix yet again.

Needless to say, Scots blood told, and when looking at the shortlist a cut price flight threw its weight on the side of Costa Rica and when, having collapsed with shock at the hotel rates on offer, we found a local tourist initiative on the net, a log cabin with all the amenities of a hotel room at half the price, the matter was settled.

We could not have been more lucky.

Our hosts, while having absolutely no clue as to the needs of self catering guests...we were their first and the learning curve was steep with plenty of laughs on both sides .....certainly knew how to make us feel welcome and were the best possible ambassadors for their country.

They showed us how to see the sights by public transport at a  fraction of the cost of the tourist sites on the net.

They included us in their family for meals and local events.

We exchanged five o' clock our host would descend with his Spanish-English and Spanish-French dictionaries and we would exchange information over glasses of Castro...Irish coffee with rum.

He didn't give us the tourist guff.

He told us about and showed us the local wildlife and plants...of which he had an encyclopaedic knowledge, but, more importantly, he told us about life in general....all the ordinary work, pay, conditions, shopping, housing, transport, taxes, social security, family life, weather,....and politics.

He encouraged us to go off on our own and explore...and gave us his mobile 'phone to call him in case we had problems.
This after the day we went by bus to the Pacific Coast.

The road from town was paved for the first half hour, but for the next three and a a half the bus travelled over a stony track up one side of the hills and down the other...through forest and grazing land, with the bizarre appearance of gated community sites in the middle of nowhere, the lots mostly unbuilt behind the imposing security barriers, until hitting the lowlands and the palm oil plantations.

The coast was too sticky for after lunch we took the next bus back.
Same bus, same driver, who had started at five o'clock that morning and would finish at eight o'clock that night.

Now, the road had been a little skiddy on the way up...everyone in the back on hills to obtain traction....and it had rained in the meantime, which made things just a little hairier on the way back.
The bus had been hailed by passing trucks several times, passing on news of the state of the road ahead, and then the driver commanded his crew into the back again and revved like a teenager with his first car.
The aged American school bus lurched forward...throwing us all over the place....and came to a sudden halt.

'Everybody out!'

The doors opened and from the rear exit we looked down at a drop of about two hundred metres as we followed the rest to the front where all became clear.
The road had opened up and the bus had dropped into the hole.

It was the middle of nowhere....just a farrier's house up the road where two horses were being attended to.
The mobile 'phones could not get a signal to ask for help.

How were we to get back?

No one seemed very worried.
A lad on a motorbike appeared on the other side of the hole and took one of the lady passengers pillion to raise the alarm on the other side once they could find a landline in use.

Kids began to appear, and then men armed with shovels...shovels for themselves and shovels for the male passengers, and all set down to filling in the hole.
The shovelling was still going on when a cattle truck appeared on the road behind the bus and the driver descended.
He listened to the bus driver, inspected the state of shovelling and announced that he would see to things.

He did. He fixed a chain to the rear of the bus and pulled it out backwards.

More shovelling.

'Everybody on the bus!'

All huddled in the back again, clinging on to the seats while being sure not to wake the drunk who had snored through the whole thing.
The engine revved again and we were off....and this time we made it as the bus jumped the chasm now made less dramatic by the shovelling work.

We only just made the last bus home and our host was waiting at the stop in his car.
If we hadn't made it on that bus, he had been coming to look for us...all the way to the coast.

Anecdote, but it made us think.

Faced with a problem, people did not flap like headless chickens. They did something practical.
They didn't worry about what could not be helped...being late...just got on with not being later than they could help.
Our host took his responsibilities seriously. We were his guests and it was his duty to look after us.

It left us a with a good feeling for that area of Costa Rica.

We bought a house before we left and, our good feelings reinforced by our winter holidays over the years, eventually decided that our life in Costa Rica was so much better than our life in France that we shifted ourselves accordingly.

So what was wrong with France?

Is Madame X right that I failed to integrate?

I had many happy years in France and made a number of friends.....but, as they say, birds of a feather fly together and my friends were like me....of an independent nature.

It was they who opened my eyes to the realities of life in France...far from the popular images of  shabby men in berets and smart tarts in frocks.

To the inequalities built into the the the realities of the famous the shabby behind the scenes the corruption.

To the terrible jealousy that corrodes life.

Against all that they showed me the good side of life in France....acceptance into a social circle in the countryside which offered everything from intellectual enquiry to picking grapes with the neighbours.

I have an uncomfortable feeling that I integrated all too well.

It was a good life if you could ignore what lay behind it but coming from a background where the experiences of the Second World War had freed people from 'knowing their place' to find a semi feudal society still in operation was disquieting.

I suppose if the winters had been just a little warmer, the decision to move might have been postponed.....but it would still have been taken.

Madeleine described life in France as being encompassed by the squared paper of its school books....if there is a box, it has to be filled....if there is not a box then the question of what there should be in its place does not arise.

Costa Rica, a small 'c' conservative society, is no paradise...but, apart from its misleading tourist literature, it doesn't pretend to be.
It will has changed under my eyes while we have been holidaying there....but I'll enjoy the lack of boxes while I can.
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Tuesday 30 November 2010

Violetta saves the game!

Australian cricket batsman Bill Woodfull faces...Image via Wikipedia
Violetta has been a good friend ever since we first bought the house here.

She is a home economics teacher at the local college and, having grown up on a farm, what she doesn't know about what to eat and how to cook it isn't worth worrying about.
We meet up once a week for cooking sessions....the chaps drink beer on the balcony while we get down to a bottle of wine in the kitchen and we take it in turns to cook from our own repetoires.....I've learned a lot!

Apart from traditional Costa Rican food Violetta is also good at  preparing something quick and tasty when coming home from work, a meal she can cook while sorting out the kids, the dogs, the housework and the endless stream of visitors.....

So....Violetta's lasagne.....qantities for four people, but not many measurements.

Use pre-cooked lasagne, or boil up the normal sort.
Poach two chicken breasts in water to cover. Don't use salt.
In the blender put a big bunch of leaf coriander, a big red sweet pepper, de-seeded and chopped, two large cloves of garlic and 250 ml - a small pot -of cream. Blend.
Remove cooked chicken breast and cut into chunks. Keep water.
Add the blender mixture to the water in the pan and whisk in one packet of cream of mushroom soup.....the normal type, nothing fancy with ceps or whatever.
Cook it until it thickens and then make up your lasagne.
Layer the pasta, the chicken and sauce and top with grated cheese.

I haven't used a packet soup for years and I suppose I could use just plain cornflour...but why be snobby?
It works.

And it works with fish and shellfish too.

I need godsends like this because England's cricketers are playing Australia for the Ashes and, thanks to the vagaries of time zones and people living in places where water goes down the plughole the wrong way round, commentary on the match starts at about five thirty in the afternoon so a meal has to be on the table at about eight o'clock...during the lunch interval in Australia......and be disposed of and washed up in forty minutes, ready for commentary on the next session.

I have been informed by Higher Authority that sandwiches are not acceptable, and that soup is also off the is a leftover balti reheated in the microwave.
Normal service is what is required.
Proper freshly cooked food to be eaten with proper utensils.
I entered a demurrer, claiming that all of the above have proved to be acceptable in other circumstances, but Higher Authority was having none of it.

I feel that suchlike sanctions would not have been imposed if England were playing South Africa...indeed, it would have been two chairs in front of the computer and a drip set up for intravenous orange juice mixed with Complan.... but as they're not, the hunt has been on for something I can make ahead and then dash to the kitchen between overs to shove in an oven, as anything involving grills and gas burners is out of the question.
And let nobody mention salad.
If there is anything for generating last minute work and a ton of washing up it is a proper salad.

I have pointed out that were we to install a Wifi modem I could get a new laptop and listen to the cricket anywhere in the house and garden...thus increasing productivity and permitting use of grills and gas burners.

Higher Authority has pointed wordlessly to advertisements for laptops - about twice the price they are in Europe - and has further indicated that as I was such a smart alec as to work out how to get a free proxy IP that the BBC, who are providing commentary, believe my computer to be freezing its widgets off in that sceptred isle of mainland Britain instead of sunning itself in a banana republic in Central America...I can use that formidable brain power to producing Proper Food at a Proper Time.

So, I need twenty five recipes for things to be shoved in ovens to get me through the five days of five Test Matches.
I refuse to contemplate meals during the Twenty - Twenty matches or the One Day Internationals until closer to the time.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof for the moment, thank you, though I have severe doubts about the morrow taking thought of things of itself, and the problem will have to be faced in due course.


Violetta's lasagne..
Ordinary lasgane.

Rice as biryani and pilau... cassoulet.
Beans....with pork skins spiced with ground cloves and pepper...
Beans with smoked Bath Chap.

Chicken casserole.
Flemish stew...beef with red wine, mustard, jam, juniper berries and cloves.
Brother in law's Australian Irish stew as made Costa Rica with beef, all sorts of unknown tubers like tiquisque, nampi and yucca (cassava), but cutting down considerably on the whole bottle of chilero sauce which is what made it memorable to all who sampled its red hot delights.
People still talk about it.....through the holes in their cheeks.

Violetta's 'lomo'...marinaded meat stuffed with rice, vegetables and hard boiled eggs.....

But that's not even half of what is needed!

Is it worth it, one asks? Could one not miss some minutes of play in order to grill some fish, or make a stir fry?
Yes it is and no, one could not.

First and foremost, the game is wonderful, combining physical skill with mental agility.
I have loved it since first being introduced to it at school.

It has its own folklore, its own life...and this is echoed in the commentary on Test Match Special on the BBC where journalists and ex players describe every ball that is played in the light of their own experience, pull each other's leg, eat cake donated by the worshipping fans of the programme....and indulge in gossip.

Test Match Special  is the Womens' Institute for men.
It beats 'The Archers' into a cocked hat.

And I'm blowed if I'm going to miss one minute of it messing off to grill fish....I know that as soon as I turn my back a wicket will fall, or a catch will be dropped, or someone will spill the beans on what happened on the tour of India all those years ago...and I'll have missed it.

Luckily, Violetta is coming round tomorrow....with more good ideas for winning the Ashes.


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Friday 26 November 2010

Election Time!

A ballot boxImage via Wikipedia
The posters are up, the party flags are waving from the pick up trucks....the local election campaigns are in full swing, ready for polling day on the fifth of December when new leaders will be elected for all the cantons of Costa Rica.

Or old leaders. The current alcalde (mayor) of the capital, San Jose, Johnny Araya, has been in post since 2003 and intends to carry on ....I passed a large building in the Paseo Colon yesterday with his slogans plastered all over its frontage....'San Jose wins with Johnny'.
I might have been more impressed if the pavement in front of the building had been level and had the road alongside not featured something resembling the water jump on a steeplechase course.

The choice in my canton lies between
a) old corruption....long experience in state enterprises...
b) new corruption....ditto plus fingers in the pie of the European Union aid programme..
c) local
So we know c) won't get anywhere.

The  system is familiar to one coming from France. The voter has a choice between the various political parties...including a party representing handicapped people....rather than between individual candidates, so you get whoever the party puts up in your area and in ours it seems to be a question of Buggins' turn.

The retiring alcalde has no more sense of administration than fly....

Central government allots funds on an annual basis, but, to avoid misuse, claws back anything not used.
So, with the canton's roads falling to pieces around him, this alcalde has managed to produce no projects to use central government money....which has thus been withdrawn and which will result in a lower allocation for next year...while making the canton liable for huge bills for repairing damage to property caused by the failure to manage the road drainage systems.

I think if I were his party, I'd let the other lot pick up the pieces....but political parties don't think like that.

Since the European Union began to provide funding in Costa Rica, several unwelcome innovations have been made in the interests of boosting government income.

One of which is that fines for traffic offences have gone through the roof and vast amounts of time have been spent on painting kerbs yellow, to allow the traffic police to haul away any vehicle parked alongside.
This has cut down trade at the weekly farmers' market no end....

Our alcalde has gone one better. Noting that only half the town had been daubed yellow, he started marking out parking spaces on what was left, and demanding that drivers pay for a parking ticket to use them, while employing two men to walk round all day with clipboards to note the offenders.
Everyone promptly began to park in the customer parking areas of the supermarkets and agricultural suppliers who have, not surprisingly, now closed their gates to all but genuine customers.

The result is that you now go shopping accompanied by a driver who drives round the town while you shop and picks you up at an arranged rendez-vous......another brilliant method of increasing carbon emissions.
Or you ride in to town on your horse and tie it up behind the municipal market.

Historically, the canton always votes overwhelmingly for the party the current alcalde the owner of my favourite caff says

'Put up a pig in the right colours and it'll get elected...come to think of did.'

But it may just be that the parking wheeze will be enough to let the other main party in.

'La Nacion', one of the main national newspapers, reckons that of the one thousand and four candidates for local office on the fifth, one hundred and fifty six have blots on their copybook which might deter less rhino-hided people from coming forward.

In   most cases this involves not making social security payments of behalf of their workers, but others are more inventive.
Their activities range from misuse of public funds, misleading statements of eligibility to stand for office, improper use of public office and in one case a term of imprisonment for passing dud cheques.

None of these activities bar anyone from standing for office, unless a court has made a specific order to that effect, so the rhino-hided carry on regardless.

If I were eligible to vote I'd have been tempted by the slogan of one of the candidates in the recent presidential elections, whose appeal to the voters was the following...

'El menos mal'...the least bad!

So that's what I'll be hoping for on the fifth....but I wont be surprised if it's a pig in coloured clothing either...

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Tuesday 23 November 2010

Someone to watch over you

                    The Laughing Falcon ( Herpetotheres cachinnans)

We were having lunch on the balcony when the noise started, a cackle that rose in volume for about a minute before falling silent only to start again.
We had heard it before, but up in the trees among the coffee bushes, high above the house, whereas this was close at hand. Very close at hand.
The bird, the Laughing Falcon, was perched in the branches of the guapinol tree, just some eight metres away from the balcony...and this is the photograph I took. Not a brilliant photograph...but good by my standards!

The Laughing Falcon eats snakes and small rodents and there are plenty of snakes in the cafetal...the  area where the coffee bushes why was it so close to the house?

Well, two days ago we saw signs of rats near the chicken houses, so we can only suppose that the Laughing Falcon had seen them too and was on the lookout for prey.

We have always been astonished at the fearlessness of birds here....put out over ripe bananas on the balcony and the birds will descend....toucans, mot-mots, chacalacas, tanagers, flycatchers... with hardly a side glance at us, though the whirr of a camera sends them up and away for a few minutes.
The flycatchers have made two nests in the chandelier on the balcony...very eco-chic of that's supper indoors until they have reared their babies. .
In France, we preserved our rooks against all comers, but there were very few other wild birds in evidence...owls, the occasional buzzard...but nothing like the company of mixed birds we had always had in gardens in England.
Blame 'la chasse'...the shooting fraternity.... and the farmers with their pesticides.

Not that people don't go out shooting things in Costa Rica...they do, but it has no organisation behind it.

Not that there are no pesticides in Costa Rica.....there is stuff being used here that has been banned for years in Europe.

As Danilo said while eating cauliflower cheese at lunch the other day......

Pure toxin!

He remembers much more wildlife about when he was a boy forty odd years ago and is convinced that pesticides are at the root of the problem...together with the advance of houses into what used to be countryside.

We live some three kilometres from town...three kilometres vertical, that is!

There are just three of us in this valley, which is down to cattle, goats and coffee and our house is on the end of the rough gravel road, so despite being so close to shops and transport we're lucky in having a real rural environment .....thus all the birds.

And I'll leave you with a much better photograph......the blue crowned mot mot....

.Just imagine having this chap five foot from your breakfast table...

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Friday 19 November 2010

From morning to night....

This is how my day starts....the view from the balcony at five thirty in the morning.

Why so early? Because by six thirty at night it will be dark and there is a lot to pack into the day.

First, breakfast. I have not and probably will not adopt the local pinto with either eggs or sour cream. Gallo pinto? Precooked rice and precooked beans spiced and mixed together to give a speckled appearance, like a cockerel's feathers, thus the name. I've eaten it with pleasure, it is tasty, but I'm stuck in my ways so it is bacon...bought in the slab and sliced on the commercial slicer we bought years ago in Belgium...and eggs from our own ducks and hens, or porage, or just a soft boiled duck egg. And then it all gets going.

Let out the young hens, keep the layers and the laying ducks inside, let out the obnoxious bird...and try to chase the 'ostriches' - bantams with naked necks and absurd topknots - out into the fresh air. Like sulky teenagers they will resist this with all their considerable guile.

Washing into the machine in order to get it out as soon as the sun hits the washing line.

By this time the man who keeps the finca working has appeared.
He has boiled up maize overnight on his wood stove and takes it down to the pigs....who jostle and grunt with delight as it hits the troughs which he made by laying large pumpkins in wooden moulds and pouring cement round them. Ideal for cutting down on feed wastage.

Morning coffee to discuss the day. Washing out on the line.
American expats find this idea of hanging washing outside most odd. They use dryers. I find this most odd.

The skillsaw needs repair so we are taking it into the capital, San Jose. Danilo drives us into town to the bus station where, as it is still relatively early, the buses are filling up and driving off in rapid succession to get the commuters to work and we are off for an hour's scenic drive through the hills at the cost of the equivalent of one euro.

Guide books do not wax lyrical about San Jose, grizzling about its traffic and its air of dilapidation, but I like it. It has a certain manky charm. However, it behoves you to keep your eyes open. You can be walking along here
and end up here....People have an unfortunate habit of removing the manhole covers and selling them for scrap.

Manhole covers are not the only hazard. Unlicensed street sellers lay out large plastic sheets of knock off DVDs on the pavement, while on the kerb somewhat derelict gentlemen sell strange assortments of items garnered from sources I would rather not know about, so keeping the eyes down rather than up becomes a habit...which is a pity because San Jose has some interesting architecture.

Skillsaw put in for repair, shopping in the Central Market for fish and meat and in the wholesale Mercado Borbon behind for vegetables, topping up from illegal street vendors for coriander and sweet peppers, then back on the bus to be met by Danilo at the bus station.

Lunch at home...a stir fry....Danilo has cut sugar cane for the pigs and fed them again.

The sky darkens and I get in the washing before the afternoon rains begin, let out the layers and collect the eggs. 
The postman arrives, we all have coffee and it's time for Danilo to go home with the maize to boil for the next morning.
I pick any ripe papaya before the toucans can get at them.

The rain starts, and it's reading and internet time until it eases off, at which point it is time to feed the pigs again...maize meal with molasses and sticks of peeled cane...and try to get the poultry in before the rain starts up again in earnest. As always with poultry at least one group is recalcitrant and the wretched drake always manages to appear at the wrong time and send all the rest fleeing in squawking confusion.
Inevitably, if the rain has started up again, the ducks will descend to the ponds and will have to be driven up again by which time I'll be drenched.

Wet or dry, the time is getting on, dusk is setting in and it's time to close down for the night. And this is what I see from the balcony as I bring in the books and the papers.

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Sunday 14 November 2010

David Hume's billiard balls.......

March for Peace in San Jose
I took our visitors to the airport yesterday morning.....we left at four o' clock in order to drop them there three hours before their flight for the absurd and ineffectual processes of 'security'.

I have been decidedly sceptical about such processes since bringing back a fillet of beef from Costa Rica which dripped blood on the floors all the way through customs in Amsterdam airport without a hair being turned.
It could have been a severed head for all they knew...or cared.
Just as long as I didn't have it in a pot of basil as the importation of plants is 'strikt verboden'.

We left in the dark, the lights on the hillsides glowing golden in the dark blue night, and travelled down to the Central Valley through banks of cloud until the sun rose over the mountains to the east and the sky took on a lemon light before turning to a soft azure blue.

The visitors left, much to be missed, and I went back into the capital for an early appointment with the Immigration Department to process my application for residence.

On the way I noticed a number of the pick up trucks so characteristic of the vehicles here were sporting large Costa Rican flags, which were being sold at numerous points by vendors along the highway......and at the Immigration Department offices there were much smaller crowds than usual.

Normally 'Migracion' is a seething crowd scene from a Cecil B de Mille  cinema epic.....babies scream and are fed, toddlers play hide and seek among the legs of the adults and grannies are helped along by their teenage grandchildren while the younger adults hold the batches of papers which hold the key to being able to live legitimately in Costa Rica.
I would not go so far as to say that all human life is here, but on some days it certainly feels like it.

The majority of those seeking legitimate status are from Nicaragua, Costa Rica's big northern neighbour, still impoverished from the years of civil war in the 1970s and, like Ireland in a similar state in the twentieth century, exporting its people rather than its products.
But yesterday there were few Nicaraguans and the harassed immigration staff were having a light day.

My business done, I headed into the centre of San Jose to change my library books.

On my way to the Teatro Nacional for a coffee in their cafe...all painted motifs on the ceiling and marble floors...I had to walk through the pedestrian area in the centre of the city......and could hardly move for groups of kindergarten  age children dressed in white tee shirts with accompanying adults, many wearing white masks pushed back on their foreheads and a sort of ribbon bow in the national colours pinned to their clothing.
Now, I am blind to images and me a modern graphic road sign and I will puzzle over it for it wasn't until I had seen several of these masks that I realised that they were supposed to be doves.
Then I saw that the groups were gathering behind placards upon which was the name of their school and various slogans in favour of peace.

So it was a demonstration....but I'd never seen kindergarten kids demonstrating before.

Over coffee I read my copy of 'La Nacion', one of the major Costa Rican newspapers and learnt that one at least of the areas wiped out by the recent landslips has been marked as being ineligible for future those rendered homeless are in a sort of limbo, like those rendered homeless by the Chinchona landslip of last year most of whom are still without permanent housing.

But the front page news was that dealing with the confrontation on the Rio San Juan, the river which forms a large part of the frontier between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Unlike most international river frontiers, this one is not shared fifty fifty, but belongs to Nicaragua entirely and the Nicaraguans have recently begun to dredge it, dumping the dredgings on the Costa Rican bank, which did not rouse any great enthusiasm on the part of the Costa Rican government.
However, worse was to come.
Some days ago a Nicaraguan force - well a few guys in camouflage outfits - landed on an marshy island in one of the meanderings of the San Juan as it heads for the sea on the Caribbean coast and started cutting trees and digging a ditch.
In an area of wetland, this would be a crime against conservation practice anyway, but as the island belongs to Costa Rica it is a great deal worse.
It is the occupation of national territory by a foreign power.

Why should Nicaragua do such a daft thing?
Well, it is supposed to want to make the river more accessible from the Caribbean, by straightening out some of its worst meanders - though how digging a ditch will help much is beyond me - while rumours circulate that the 'big idea' is to revive the old scheme of having a canal using the San Juan and the huge Lake Nicaragua to reach from Atlantic coast to Pacific coast, thus cutting out the Panama Canal.

The idea has been around for ever.....Vanderbilt, busy shipping people from the U.S. East coast to the Californian Gold Rush via the San Juan in the nineteenth century dreamt of it, but the Gold Rush trade died out before anything concrete could be done.....
The Russians, while they were still the Soviets and helping impoverished countries in Central America also dreamt of it...but their empire crumbled before anything could be done.....
And now it seems that that bane of U.S. foreign policy, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has got his hands on Iranian money to build the long awaited canal.....but that seems as much of a pipe dream as all the others....

As always in these affairs, there is a ludicrous moment. Pastora, leader of the band of Nicaraguan armed navvies, claims the island he is busy digging away at belongs to Nicaragua because it is so shown on a Google map!
I'd like to see the faces of the judges of the International Court of Justice at The Hague faced with Google as jurisprudence!

What is Costa Rica to do? Be like Palmerston and send a gunboat?
Not very likely.
It doesn't have an army, let alone a navy.
It is a country which has renounced arms since the civil war of 1948, when in the following year the military junta decided that the best way of avoiding further civil wars was to abolish the army!

So it will negotiate, as it has started to do before that generally ineffective talking shop the Organisation of American States, and when that comes to nothing, as it will, Costa Rica will go to the United Nations...jaw jaw, not war war.

And what will Nicaragua do? Just keep on digging that ditch until sometime next year.
Why until then?
Because the Nicaraguan President, Ortega, is seeking a third term of office, which is unconstitutional.
In order to get it he has suborned the judges of the supreme court and falsified the existing constitution....but he needs popular support and what better to do than to whip up nationalist fervour against Costa Rica...the rich neighbour who exploits the poor Nicaraguans seeking work as servants and coffee pickers?
He will inevitably be re elected next year, at which point the shovels will be put away and the Nicaraguan army will retire to its own shore.

I suspect that the Costa Rican government knows this too.

But they have their own interests to serve.
The new President, Laura Chinchilla, has made a less than scintillating start to her term of office and has spent a great deal on a PR campaign to improve her ratings.
Then came the landslips and the floods.
Then came the scepticism about the effectiveness of government intervention.

As my librarian said as we chatted later

Well, where did all the money that was raised for Chinchona go to?
The National Emergency Commission did themselves pretty well out of it, buying quad bikes and whatnot. but the people still don't have houses and with the Banco de Costa Rica matching donations made by the public there was enough to buy land and build houses twenty times over.
What's going to be different this time?

This time there is the Rio San Juan.

Thus the flags on the cars.
Thus the 'spontaneous' demonstration by little children organised 'spontaneously' by their teachers.
Thus the photo opportunities for the President.

David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, reckoned that we assume that A is caused by B because A and B generally happen in sequence and from the sequence we assume causality.
We play billiards and we see the cue strike ball A and ball A strike ball B which then moves and we say that the action of the cue sets all this in motion.
Hume's point is that it is perfectly possible for cue, ball A and ball B to 'do different' as one says in Norfolk....for ball A to turn back from ball B, for example.
Nature is not regular and predictable.

So while I might think that two Presidents in search of popularity might well be behind the Rio San Juan conflict, the march of kindergarten children, the flags waving from the trucks and the absence of Nicaraguans at the Immigration Department, David Hume would rebuke me for my credulity.

Thursday 4 November 2010

A state of emergency declared.....

Costa  Rica has had a month of heavy, persistent rain. Major roads have been closed as the foundations of bridges have been washed away. Rivers have overspilled their banks, flooding houses and forcing people to go to shelters. The vital Pan American highway, carrying traffic from Panama to Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El  Salvador  has been cut several times.

But now, this morning, dreadful news. Tropical storm Thomas combined with a low pressure area over the Caribbean sent driving, torrential rain over the country in the night and this was the straw that broke the camel's least it was in the village of San Antonio de Escazu in the hills above the capital, San Jose.

A massive landslide started, taking with it ten houses.

So far eight bodies have been found, while about thirty people are reported as missing.

The emergency services...the police and fire brigade, the Red Cross... are at full stretch all over the country where communities have been cut off and no assessment of their situation has been possible.

Access is hampered by the state of the roads...washed out in parts, dangerous in others, so what the country needs is helicopters to get help to those who need it.

But the country doesn't have any.

Not public ones, that is, for emergency use.

It has to rely on the civic sense of the institutional bodies like the electricity board and the generosity of private owners.

It has to call upon neighbouring countries.

A fortnight ago, the President, Laura Chinchilla, toured affected helicopter.

I hope it's being put to better use today.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Follow the guide...

The inside of the Teatro National de Costa Ric...Image via Wikipedia

Friends are visiting...they have a fortnight to 'do' Costa Rica!

They have used the first couple of days to visit the capital, San Jose... where they were astonished by the wealth of architecture.....and volcano Poas...which was broody and would not reveal its secrets... then used the internet to arrange the nuts and bolts of their trip.

As I have discovered, there are two ways to tour Costa Rica...the tourist way and the local way.

In the local way, you check where you have family and go to stay with them, using their home as a base for touring.
If you don't have family, you  look around for 'cabinas', individual accommodation, varying from wooden huts with cold water only to proper small houses with fans and hot water.
They're advertised in the newspapers, or you just ask around when you get to where you're going, except in the peak local holiday seasons when anything decent has long been taken.

Then there's the tourist way. You use the guide books.

Our visitors had done their homework...they wanted to visit several different areas in order to enjoy to the full the variety of climates and environments which Costa Rica has to offer.

They wanted to go to Tortuguero...the maze of wetlands on the Caribbean coast.
But there is limited public transport and all the hotels have to offer are inclusive tours from the capital...the cheapest being two hundred and eighty seven U.S. dollars per person for a two nights all in.
All in, unless you would like a glass of wine or beer with your dinner...
All in, unless you would like to tour the wetlands in a  boat at dusk or dawn to see the astounding bird life.
Which is why you go there.

Tortuguero was off the list, then.

Arenal...the volcano in full activity, with nocturnal lava flows...was next on the list.
We looked at the website for the hotel to which they had had a recommendation from a friend.
Yes, it was on the side of the volcano where the lava is currently flowing....but the view of the volcano was all there was to offer and if the nights were cloudy they would see nothing, just hear the eery crack of the tumbling rockfalls.
It was miles from the nearest town...over a rough once you were there you were the prisoner of the hotel.
If you wanted to eat somewhere else, it was a taxi ride costing some ten dollars at least each way...
If you wanted to visit the hot springs in the area it would be at least twenty dollars each way....
To get to the hanging bridges, the butterfly farms or would cost you.

Why not, we said, stay in the cabinas with similar views of the lava flow situated alongside the hanging bridges and the butterfly farm, in a village half way to the local town with a few cafes and ask locals about the non touristy hot springs establishments?
Both our guests spoke Spanish, after all.

No. The cabinas were not in their guide book.

But they are on the can see how nice the rooms are and they have hot showers and breakfast is included.

No. They would follow the guide book and the recommendation from their friend...who had probably used the same guide book.

Well, check Tripadvisor. See if the reviews bear out what the guide book says.

No, the hotel would be fine.

At that point I gave up.

I would like to have spared them paying one hundred and twenty nine dollars per person per night to be stuck out in the wilds of nowhere....but the power of the guidebook shows how worthwhile it is for the hotels to advertise with it.
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Tuesday 19 October 2010

Image is not all...

Jardim Botânico de São PauloImage via Wikipedia
I've been looking at images of Costa Rica, while trying to set up a template for the attempt doomed to failure given my general incompetence with anything involving pressing buttons combined with Blogger's unwillingness to recognise anything other than its own templates.

What do I find?

Toucans, turtles and youths in crash helmets hurtling through the treetops on ziplines.

I'm fine with toucans....they breed in the telegraph pole up behind the house where they perform antics I would have thought unbelievable outside of a cartoon animation.
The length of the toucan...bill to tail.... is greater than the width of the telegraph pole.
Going home for the evening they fly straight for the nest hole...and disappear within as if some magic hand has seized them!
Every evening I expect to see one crashing right through the other side, bill surrounded by splinters, but
They know what they're doing.

Turtles I have yet to encounter. We don't frequent the beaches much.
Long gone are the days of turtle soup, the callapash and callapee served at the Lord Mayor of London's banquets, though you can see turtle eggs on sale all over Costa Rica...fishmongers, general name it...despite all the legal restrictions on collecting them except under controlled circumstances.
Various types of turtle come to lay their eggs on the Costa Rican beaches, both Caribbean and Pacific, but with the rise of the luxury resorts on the Pacific coast which are illegally enclosing public beaches for the benefit of the few who can afford their astronomic prices, the  turtles face a greater risk to their survival than from the egg collectors and the mass of predators which await the babies on their long run to the sea once hatched.
The baby turtles head for the brightest light...which is under normal conditions, the sea. The bright lights of hotels, restaurants and entertainment areas lead them off their path.....and away from their already slim chance of life.

And as for these goons hurtling through the treetops on ziplines....usually shouting in exhilaration....who on earth thought that this was an appropriate tourist activity for a country which sells itself to the tourist trade as 'green' and respectful of the environment!
There can't be a self respecting bird, animal or insect within miles of the things!

I see that the Costa Rican tourist industry paints as misleading a picture of the country as does its French counterpart....for whom France consists of the Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge and croissants.
In both cases, the publicity is there to sell meals, hotel rooms and tickets for entertainment...and a lot of what would be really interesting to the visitor is ignored.

The trouble is that you don't start to find out about those things until your holiday is nearly over....when you've met some of the people who live outside the guarded enclosures of the fancy hotels and the seclusion of the guided tour bus.....when you've gone shopping for food, not for souvenirs...when you've taken local transport...when you've got lost doing any or all of the above!
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Wednesday 13 October 2010

It all began badly....

RER - Charles De Gaulle AirportImage by JKleeman via Flickr
It was our first trip to Costa Rica.

We were due to leave from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, which meant that friends had to get up at some godless hour to take us to catch the milk train up to for some wonder everyone was not on strike...except that the lifts at Charles de Gaulle railway station did not work, so I had to hump the suitcases up two flights of stairs to get to the shuttle bus that runs round like a demented hamster serving the various terminals.

Charles de Gaulle must be the most unpleasant main airport in existence. Badly laid out, dirty almost to the point of being squalid and decidedly expensive, it was almost a relief to get through to the departure gate in some far flung annexe for our long flight, which involved a change at Houston.

The 'plane was late, we had to walk miles while empty transport vehicles passed regularly, picking up no one, until we eventually arrived at the hour long queue at immigration.
I was struck by the discourtesy of the staff organizing the lines....whatever their training had involved there had been no place for manners, evidently....but the final blow came as our 'planeload approached the checkpoints.
It was one of those periods when the French government were being uncooperative in the view of the U.S. and as the sound of French became audible to the staff, more than half of them closed down their desks.

Well, welcome to the U.S.!

We were in transit, we had no intention of staying in the country, but were still subject to this absurd process, not to speak of having to retrieve our baggage and go through customs!
I think 'subject' is an appropriate word.
The U.S. government appears to think that all foreigners are 'subject' races with only one aim in get into the U.S.A. and stay there.
Given the reception, the reaction all around me was the same as mine....
If that's the U.S.. they can keep it!

Then through 'security' again as the departure time for our flight to Costa Rica did not so much as creep closer but gallop fast enough to win the Derby.
Bossy women snatching our travel documents....and the final delight...taking off our shoes to go through the security gates.
Well, Mr. Fly cannot balance to do this standing, so I asked for a chair.

'If he isn't fit he should be in  a wheelchair. If  he isn't in a wheelchair he's fit.'

So he stood in front of the gate, blocking it, until a chair was brought.
I think it was a near run thing between the arrival of a chair and his departure in handcuffs.

The 'plane was small and crowded.....but at least we were out of the U.S.!

As we approached landing time, the plane ran into violent thunderstorms and circled for an hour over the main international airport at San Jose, Costa Rica.
From the window I had close ups of mountain peaks and searing bolts of lightning, while in the seat behind a loud American voice announced that it was often like this and no doubt we'd be diverted to Panama, where, as Americans need a visa, nobody would be allowed to leave the plane!
Eventually, the pilot announced that we would be diverting to the holiday airport of Liberia, in the north of Costa Rica...but from there...what?
Would we be bussed down to San Jose?
Would we have to stay in the plane at Liberia until conditions improved?
No news.

At Liberia, the plane landed and eventually the stewardesses announced that it would be refuelled and would then take off again for San Jose.
It was a long, hot wait and Mr. Fly, exhausted, needed somewhere to stretch out.
I asked a stewardess if he could go through to the front of the plane.
But he was ill.
He hadn't paid first class, he didn't get first class.
But he doesn't want champagne, caviar, pole dancers or whatever else goes on up there..he just needs to stretch out.
He hadn't paid first class, he didn't get first class. There's water in the galley if you want to help yourself.

I was getting worried.
Mr. Fly was suffering from heat and exhaustion.
We had arranged a pick up to take us to our destination.....but by the time we had been  refuelled and taken off again, we would be five hours late arriving.
There was no way our pick up would still be there.
I started looking at the travel guide, looking for somewhere to stay near the airport, and found a couple of options, planning to take a taxi to one of them, get some sleep, and ring our contact number the next day to sort out what to do.

The voice from the seat behind was declaiming that this was always happening in this got used to it...he was going to ring his wife to pick him up...too bad for anyone else...

Then we landed.
Immigration was fast.....we were the only 'plane.
Customs was fast, with a charming man who helped me load the suitcases through the machine.

And miracle of miracles....our pick up was there!

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Sunday 10 October 2010

At least the airport's open...

Earthquake at 5.9 on the Richter Scale, the Panamerican highway closed down by landslides, the capital cut off from the Pacific coast likewise and the dockers threatening to strike.

Lucky I'm arriving by air......

I am making the move from France to Costa Rica, leaving my house unsold behind me, in need of a fresh  blast of air in my life.

I am not looking for an ideal...I am certainly not about to 'live the dream'...and I know that Costa Rica is no paradise, but it will give me what I need for the moment.

A breathing space. Time to take stock. Recovery time.

Then we'll see.

At least, that is the idea, but I know from experience that that is not what will happen.
I'll get caught up in things, life will start winding tendrils round my ankles and I'll soon find it hard to distinguish the rainforest from the trees.

Still, welcome to my discoveries in the land of the plastic bag.....the one in Central America, on the thin bit, just north of the one with the canal.....Costa Rica.