Two days ago the Central American country of Costa Rica celebrated 189 years of independence. It was kind of a big deal.
And while we didn’t see any fireworks here in the little town of Bagaces, the people here proved that they do, without a doubt, know how to celebrate.
People lined the streets to watch a parade put on by school students of all ages. Some were dressed in beautiful (I’m assuming traditional?) clothes.
Don’t let all the jeans fool you – it was HOT outside.
I think the entire town showed up – lining the streets and even climbing trees to watch the parade.
Our friend Karla’s son played the drum.
Oh, the drums.
This isn’t your typical American high school marching band. This was something else. Something spectacular. The rhythm was palpable. And the energy of the players – even through the heat – was incredible. They jumped in the air, throwing the barrels behind their backs like it was nothing. It wasn’t just music. It was a dance. It was intense.
What I learned that day about this town is that the people here are really no different from any small community in the U.S. They love gathering for celebrations, and all of the related accoutrements: eating great food, listening to fun music, and of course, showing off their babies.
By the way, I really think Erin and I are finally starting to blend in.
Pinto, a world-travelling intern from Spain who’s been working here for approximately the past 5 years, always brings strange and wonderful fruits to work and offers to let us try them.
Pinto is a wandering engineer who doesn’t believe in marriage and somehow always manages to get his food before anyone else when we go to our most frequented restaurant here in Bagaces.
And, like I said, Pinto is generous with fruit – fruit he buys from the local street vendors – fruit I’m always eager to try.
But I’ll admit – when I saw this sitting on my desk, I was a little skeptical. I mean – it looks more like a toy I’d buy for my dogs than something edible.
I had to look inside.
Oooh! What’s that? Some type of gummy, gooey, gelatinous substance. Like something out of Alien…
Costa Ricans call this a mamón chino, otherwise known as a rambutan (according to Wikipedia). This is the edible “meat” inside. Should I eat it?
Hells yeah I should. It was good. Tangy, sweet, and a really cool texture. The only thing I did not enjoy was the woody seed I managed to splinter in my mouth with my teeth – the seed I’m just now reading on Wikipedia is “mildly poisonous” when eaten raw.
My mistake. This time. But next time? Next time I’ll be ready.
Remember that one common area in high school where everyone would hang out in the morning before the first bell?
Remember that feeling you’d get walking through that gauntlet as a Freshman? Feeling the heat of a thousand beady upper-classman eyes boring into you, mercilessly dissecting your merchandise and fashion choices?
No matter who you were or how confident and carefree you felt before you entered that high school, you suddenly became the thin-skinned, self-conscious, shaky Chihuahua of Social Inadequacy.
Your JanSport backpack felt immediately uncool. Your Sketchers, beyond lame. Your cuffed jeans were now a crime against humanity. And your scrunchy…
Dear God, your scrunchy.
That’s what it feels like, every single day I walk to work. Instantly, I’m transported back to that horrible moment where all eyes are on you. Watching you.
I mean, they don’t even try to act polite about it.
I know they’re whispering about how I wore the exact same outfit last week. And the week before that.
I knew before we came to Costa Rica that the language situation would be a challenge. And when I say “language situation,” I mean the fact that I speak next to no Spanish. Nada. Remember?
I’m lucky so many people speak English here, but I still feel like a standoffish gringo bitch whenever one of the non-English-speaking employees tries to talk to me at work. I grasp at the air, desperately trying to pick up a few words I might recognize in the outpouring of one-sided conversation.
This “situation” has led to more than one embarrassing moment, not excluding the time last week when one of my co-workers came into the restroom a minute after me. She was chatting away, presumably asking questions, judging from the inflection in her voice. Hearing no one answer her, I assumed she was talking to someone on her cell phone. I couldn’t tell, since – you know – I was sitting in the stall, pants around my ankles, oblivious to even the most basic of human interactions in any country – women gabbing in a restroom – that she was talking to me. Duh.
I literally let her go on for 2 minutes while I sat there as she searched for some type of response – any type of response – to let her know that there was, in fact, another woman sitting in the stall next to her and not some psycho person creepin’ in the girls’ restroom. Finally she started calling out names… Vivian? Carla? Erin? (I love how they pronounce Erin’s name here – Aireeen? With a lovely roll of the “r”.) Then, finally – Katie?!
In retrospect that really should’ve been her first guess. I mean, everyone here knows that I’m the ignorant one. So really, the total confusion was her fault. Right?
Anyway. I am picking some stuff up. I’ve learned how to say bitch (puta), dickface (carapichá), and of course, una más cerveza, por favor. I think the most confusing issue for me (and everyone around me) is the fact that every time I try to speak, I’m mixing English, a wee bit of Spanish, and… wait for it… German.
Yes, I’m that girl.
I took German classes all throughout highschool and 3 years in college. So, when I try to speak a language other than my native tongue, I automatically deflect to German. It’s what I’ve always known.
Ein boot? Un barco? A boat.
But crappy Spangermlish aside, I hope my minuscule improvements – no matter how slight and wrought with errors – at least make it known that I am trying. I didn’t want to come down here and presume everyone would accommodate me by speaking in English. In fact, I originally assumed that I’d pretty much be a social outcast, lurking in corners with a drink in one hand, cigarette in the other (no mom, I did not pick up smoking – it ‘s for visual effect), mutely surveilling the Ticos and my American friends as they talk about me not behind my back but in front of my face because I’m just. that. dumb.
And I would have deserved that.
But it’s really not that way here. The patience of some of these people as I struggle through a simple sentence that comes out sounding like a 2-year-old crack-addicted schizophrenic with Tourette’s (Yo quiero un… shit! – como se dice “ride”? – ah, paseo… al la… al la… oh puta. Tienda?) is astounding. And sure – there’s probably the occasional – okay daily – chuckle at my expense, but that would be a human thing – not a Tico thing.
Even while completely surrounded by it, learning a new language is hard. At least for me. And I’ll tell you one thing – it’s far more difficult for the people living in Latin America to decipher my Spangermlish that it is for me to “push 1 for English” in the United States.
I want to whine about how I woke up this morning with my nose stuffed up, my chest congested and my eyeballs aching… yet again.
I want to piss and moan about how my pits are perennially gnarly, my upper lip is permanently sweat-stached, and how it seems entirely possible that my feet will be constantly covered in filth and muck forever and ever until the end of eternity, amen.
I want to wail and gnash my teeth about how I miss my husband and family and curling iron. I want to curse the gods for having to formulate complicated arrangements involving no less than three different modes of transportation a week in advance just to get to a grocery store to buy bread. I want to lie down and roll around on the ground while kicking and screaming about the unfairness of being sick nearly every single day of the three weeks we’ve been in Costa Rica.
And, normally, Iwould. Because that’s the kind of miserable, ungrateful person I am.
Seriously, have you met me?
But, today, I can’t seem to do it. Because, for the moment, I’m stopped dead in my tracks by all the unsympathetic beauty of the world around me.
And it’s making me remember that I’m lucky that I have a nose to get stuffy and pits to get gnarly and feet to get muddy and a husband, family and curling iron to miss.
And, for that, some small, rational part of me sends up thanks to the Great Whoever that I’m alive to experience all the loneliness and unfairness and crappiness of life.
And so, today, I think I will just shut up and smile.
I hate feeling tired at all, but especially when the view outside your window is persistently telling me to feel awake, alive and happy.
I hate that the first three sentences of this post start with the words, “I hate.”
Maybe it’s my newly-rejuvenated coffee dependency and the fact that I’ve only had one cup so far this morning.
Maybe it’s the fruity rum drinks, wine and cerveza from ladies’ night on the town.
Maybe it’s the 5 hours of sleep and the slap in the face when I looked in the mirror this morning and realized why – in fact – they call it beauty sleep, and why – in fact – this applies to me now that I’m 27.
So what do I love this morning?
Strange, but I love that it was hard to breathe on our walk to work. Whether it’s from the large amounts of chile pepper fumes I inhaled while making hot sauce yesterday or never-dulling beauty of the view along the way, I don’t really care. I love it. I love it near tears.
I love how happy most of the people here are most of the time – even if we’re usually covered in mud, sweat, mosquito bites or any combination of the 3, it’s really difficult to be unhappy here.
I love that I made one of my favorite hot sauces yesterday with my own bare – actually gloved – hands. And am making another favorite today – one so garlicky that its aroma, one of my favorites in the world, just might cover up the musty smell from my clothes that never quite finished drying after the last wash.
No, I don’t have a photo of my clothes.
But I do have photos of the hot-sauce making process. Unfortunately, they’re on my camera. My camera is at Bec’s place.
I hate that I’m so forgetful.
Apparently it’s going to be one of those days. Maybe I should just go get another damn cup of coffee.
So we had a slight lapse in posts while we spent the weekend in Nicaragua. Sorry about that. We’ll make it up to you by showing you ALL the fun we had – even though we almost weren’t let back into Costa Rica. Almost. But a sweet-talkin’ gringa and series of bribe requests later, we made it. Dirty, exhausted, and incredibly happy.
So we had an interesting dinner experience the other night.
In an effort to save a little moolah and live more like the locals, we attempted to make rice and beans.
Well. I’m sure this is something that turns out absolutely delicious for those who eat it regularly and have actual… you know… seasonings in their kitchens. But I’ll spoil the ending to this little story by telling you that ours ended up tasting a little more like… um… how should I put this? Paper.
Our very first problem was that I felt it was imperative that I took a nap immediately when we got home. The “nap” turned into 3 hours, and I woke up at 5:00. So what? Even if it takes a couple of hours to cook, no big deal, right?
I first consulted Judy, our gracious host and excellent cook about how we should get started. She explained how she puts the whole onion inside the rice cooker (it actually roasts while the rice cooks so you can just squeeze the onion out of its outer layers of skin when it’s done), along with some diced pepper, garlic, and “other things” – other things we most certainly did not have. She was generous enough to give us several cloves of garlic and some celery leaves to throw on in, and luckily we already had an onion and red pepper.
She showed me how to sort through the beans and pick out anything that had split or any pieces of rock or cement that might have found its way into the bag during processing. (Which I’m told is pretty standard. You know, like bugs in your pasta. Oh we haven’t told you about that? It’s dee-lish.) Luckily, we had a pretty good bag. She then explained that they needed to sit in a pot of water for 2-3 hours to soften up prior to cooking.
That’s right, she informed my dumbfounded expression. 2-3 hours should do the trick. Ok, so that’s still not terrible – then maybe 20 minutes to cook and we can eat around 8:30, right?
When I googled “how to cook dry black beans,” I learned that not only do you need to soak them for 2-3 hours, but the best way to cook them is at a low simmer for another 2 hours!
WTF. It’s beans. And rice. But apparently it takes longer than Coq au Vin to make without the delicious indulgence of all the fat and calories.
So I went back to Judy, tail between my legs. Um… may I please borrow your pressure cooker?
Sigh. She had to come back over and show us how to use it without burning our faces off, but this drastically reduced the cooking time and eliminated the need for soaking them. Just throw all our stuff in the pot, and a little while later, poof! Beans are cooked.
Meanwhile, the rice concoction smelled delicious.
By this point we were starving, so we threw it all into a bowl and hoped for the best.
And it actually looked halfway decent…
But the taste… Oh, the taste. How do I say this?
There wasn’t one.
In a true moment of ingenuity, Erin suggested we sprinkle it with our salty plantain chips, which proved to be a VAST improvement.
Next time (har-har) we will be investing in some seasonings. And I don’t think I ever want to try Judy’s rice and beans. I would probably cry.
I spent the next morning walking around the yard reassessing this whole “budget” situation and trying to figure out whether we could afford to live off of boxes of macaroni and cheese for the next two months.
When I realized there’s no possible way, I felt frustrated for a second.
But only a second.
Because it’s really difficult to stay frustrated on a morning when – even with bland beans still percolating in my stomach – the world outside my bedroom looks like this:
Today, Katie and I stuck our pale, bugbite-riddled city legs in the stirrups and went on a trail ride with our awesome new girlfriends Becca, Maria, and Wiebke.
We were thrilled at the chance to get to gallop freely through the Costa Rican pastures, feeling the wind in our hair, the sun on our skin and the extremely hard saddle under our butts.
The horses were maybe less thrilled.
Ok, and maybe Katie wasn’t exactly ‘thrilled’ either.
But I was. And this is my post, so I can remember it however I want. So, hah.
It turned out to be a truly fantastic day. At seemingly every bend in the trail, we’d come across something that made me so eternally grateful that I’d decided to grab my camera, after all.
Such somethings as this:
Just keep it movin’, sister.
And this adorable little guy…
whose large, less adorable mom arrived on the scene with a quickness. Fortunately, she ended up being a really good sport about us camera-stalking her child.
We even spotted capuchin monkeys!
There he is!
Ok, technically Weibke did all the spotting. I’m not entirely sure I would’ve known how to spot a capuchin (or even what a capuchin was) even if I’d had a pair of binoculars and a Spotting Capuchins for Dummies handbook.
In the end, we got to see some amazing things and no one was bucked, bitten or trampled.
Even Katie was a happy cowgirl.
It was a supremely fantastic day that we’ll remember for a long, long time to come.
Which is about the amount of time it’ll take us to walk normally again.
Okay. I haven’t taken the camera out much since we’ve been here, because:
a) It’s kind of hard to take pictures with sweat dripping into your eyes.
b) It’s kind of hard to take pictures when it’s raining outside.
c) It’s kind of hard to take pictures when you’re already late to work and sweat is dripping into your eyes.
d) Sometimes I like to see the world with my own eyes – sans sweat – before I try to capture any of it with a camera.
But yesterday our new boss asked me to take some photos of the farm – specifically black and white photos of chile peppers – that he can use for the company website and various marketing projects. I definitely need some more practice, but for me it’s really difficult to capture the beauty here in black and white. The color is the beauty.
So finally, for your viewing pleasure, you can see just a little of what Erin and I see every day.
This is part of the chile pepper patch, where they’re currently growing several different varieties of peppers:
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that in neglecting to take the camera out our first day here, I may have missed my only opportunity to get a clear shot of the volcanoes that serve as the backdrop of our little town. I can see them from the office window – WHEN they’re not obscured by clouds.
Here’s what it looks like on a clear day:
The peppers themselves are quite beautiful…
…as are their flowers before they bear fruit…
…as well as the rows in which they’ve been planted.
And while the peppers don’t look bad in black and white…
There’s nothing more vibrant in my world right now than a red hot chile pepper.