exploring, examining, exchanging, expressing
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Finding Shelter
I awoke this morning to a complete absence of water and electricity. Earlier this year, around March and April, such outages were common in parts of the Central Valley due to water shortages. But now, in the thick of the rainy season, I assumed that it was because of construction in the neighborhoods.

My roommate, however, informed me of the truth: our landlord forgot to pay the utility bills.

We've endured other discomforts here as well. We've been waken by early morning, unannounced intrusions by our landlord for various reasons. Recently, he decided the apartment absolutely had to be repainted, despite the fact that it meant weeks of drywall dust and paint fumes for us. He spontaneously replaced a sink one morning, turning off the water, and leaving us unexpectedly without water for morning showers. The list goes on and on.

Why do we remain here? Well, this highlights a problem for expat ESL teachers. Furnished housing is difficult to find and relatively expensive in Costa Rica. It's even more difficult to find in desirable locations. So, because we don't want to buy furniture for our temporary stay here, and because we need a place with a phone line (difficult for non-residents to get), and because we want to be close to our school, we are stuck.

Luckily, the water and electricity came back on in the afternoon. And more importantly, I'm only living here for 45 more days.


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Monday, October 29, 2007
El Hombre Araña
Two weekends ago my ankle was bitten by something. I didn't worry about it at the time because it was a small bite, like from a mosquito. The tiny mark remained all week, not getting worse or better.

Yesterday, however, things started happening. The bite was swollen and a bit red in the morning. By evening, my entire ankle was swollen and the red area was about the size of a nickel.

No worries, I told myself. I probably scratched the bite and it got infected. I knew I could go to the pharmacy the next day, have a doctor look at it, and get some antibiotics.

Just to be safe, however, I Googled "spider bite." Allow me to warn you now: NEVER GOOGLE "SPIDER BITE!" The anecdotes I read, the pictures I saw, nearly kept me up all night. But eventually I calmed down. I rationalized, figuring that if I had been bitten by a horrible flesh-melting death-spider, the symptoms would've revealed themselves sooner than 7 days.

Today my roommate went with me to the pharmacy and the doctor confirmed that it is indeed an infection. He gave me 7 antibiotic pills (one a day) and some spray. The cost was much more than my last dose, but I assume these are stronger pills. The whole thing took around 15 minutes and $40. I grumbled about the money for about 8 seconds, and then I remembered that a similar medical visit in the US would've taken much, much longer and cost several times as much.

Then I remembered that I'm supposed to leave for Panama on Thursday. Seven days of antibiotics means I'll be taking them the entire time I'm in Bocas del Toro. I'm not thrilled about crossing the border with pills. But worse: that means no drinking during my border run. I don't get to enjoy cheap Panamanian beer. That makes me an unhappy gringo.

Plus, apparently it wasn't a radioactive spider. So I don't get to be Spider-Man for Halloween.


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Friday, October 26, 2007
Last night marked the end of my regular teaching gigs. All that's left now is to grade a few quizzes and sub for someone at the end of November. I am free to enjoy my remaining 49 days in Costa Rica in a state of blissful unemployment.

Those days are filling up quickly, too. This weekend I'll be bar-hopping with friends and visiting my Tico family. Next weekend I'm going back to Bocas del Toro for another border run, then I'm taking the long way back so I can check out more of the Carib coast. At some point, I want to go to Monteverde and Arenal Volcano. Then we're hosting a Thanksgiving dinner / party at our place. I'll have one spare week to tie up any loose ends, and then my parents will be here.

And then I'm gone.

It absolutely blows my mind when I think of how quickly this year has passed. But it's too soon to get nostalgic about it. I'm not done yet! These remaining days must be savored.

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Monday, October 22, 2007
Pollo con Coco
Despite the fact that we live together, my roommates and I never eat together at our house. We have different schedules and tastes, for the most part. But since one of them was having a birthday, I decided to cook lunch for us all on Saturday.

Inspired by my recent experience with Caribbean cuisine, I gathered ingredients to make chicken with coconut sauce. Of course, I didn't follow a recipe. Nor did I measure anything. But this is the gist of what I came up with:

chopped garlic (maybe 4-5 cloves)
chopped ginger (tablespoonish)
chopped onion (one medium)
chopped sweet peppers (two)
roasted jalapeño (only one - they're wimps)
fresh thyme (this is my new favorite herb)
cinnamon (dash)
chicken breasts (marinated in soy sauce overnight)
coconut milk (half a can)
cilantro and chives for garnish

I sautéed everything until the chicken was almost done. Then I added coconut milk and simmered for about a half hour. I served it with brown rice and caramelized carrots.

The birthday girl enjoyed it so much she went for seconds, and asked for leftovers to take for lunch. I'd call that a success.


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Grey Skies
October is the rainiest month of the rainy (err... "green") season. Now we not only have downpours every afternoon, we have sprinkles and showers throughout the day. There is no sun. The neverending drizzle was starting to get to me, so I looked for a solution. It turns out that October is the driest month for the Limon province.

I should also mention that I'm currently only working 6 hours a week (Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30 to 8:30 at an off-site class).

These two facts led to one simple conclusion: Beach Trip.

I packed a bag and took the Friday morning bus to Cahuita. I plan on taking my parents to this beach when they visit in December, so this was no mere vacation - it was a fact-finding mission. Upon arrival, I scoped a few spots and settled on Cabinas Calipso for my lodging. It had the essentials - a fan in the room, warm water, and a hammock outside. Plus it was only 7000 colones (around $14).

With shelter secured, I began the hunt for food. Miss Edith's called out to me. It is a Cahuita institution, and for good reason. Hidden on a corner, next to the Police Station / Post Office, and with an ocean view, it's a peaceful place to enjoy the best of Costa Rica's Caribbean cuisine. I chose fish fillet rondon, then relaxed with a cool glass of lemonade while I waited. This is not a place for the impatient. But who's watching a clock? The kitchen is hidden behind a curtain, but I could hear the sizzle and smell the aroma of real cooking, the kind that's been going on here for generations. Eventually, I was presented with my feast. Rondon is a stew that gets its name from the patois word for "run-down" because it was originally made with whatever the cook could run-down in the kitchen. Mine contained fish and root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, yucca, sweet potatoes, and plantain that were simmered in butter and a coconut milk sauce and flavored with whole sprigs of thyme. I savored every morsel.

I enjoyed the experience so much that I went back the next day. A morning of lounging on Playa Negra had worked up an appetite. This time, I asked for the Hot Jerked Smoked Chicken, extra spicy. And boy, did they deliver. My platter contained mounds of chicken breast, smothered in dark jerk sauce, and topped with several habanero chilis. It was an amazing balance of sweet, spicy, and smoky. And it was the best chicken I've ever put in my mouth.

The rest of the long weekend was spent in a similar fashion. There was not a single drop of rain the whole time. I relaxed. I checked out some of the nicer hotels for my parents. I ate good food and drank cold beer. I swung on a hammock. And I reluctantly returned to Heredia on Monday, where it was and is still raining.


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Saturday, October 06, 2007
Can I Keep Him?
I made a new friend today. As I was walking home from the farmer's market, I took a detour through some different neighborhoods. A cute little dog started following me. I made a few turns to see if he'd keep up, and he did. I even went into a store, and he was there waiting for me when I got out. He made it all the way to my house, despite the other neighborhood dogs trying to scare him away.

I figured it was over when I got through my gate. But he managed to climb through the bars! (Luckily none of the neighborhood dogs can do that). I tried a few things to get him to leave. I put water outside, which he went to. But he always found his way back between the bars of the gate.
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For a moment, I was tempted to keep him. But I knew I couldn't. What would I do with him?
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I left him alone outside for awhile, thinking he'd eventually get hungry and leave on his own. Then, when my roommate went out, he followed her. I don't think he'll be back.
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I already miss him.
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Soccer is, by far, the most important sport in Costa Rica. The sports page of the newspaper is filled with pages of soccer information and a little corner of one pages about other sports. They take their futbol seriously. So I figured I should watch a game, live, in a stadium. Last weekend, my town's team (Club Sport Herediano) was playing at home, so I went with a couple of other teachers to check it out.

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Honestly, it wasn't as exciting as I thought it'd be. I expected a more festive atmosphere. But the crowed just wasn't pumped. I think that's because the opposition wasn't very good. CSH scored three goals and the other team (I don't even remember their name) barely made any attempts.

We did get to see some little kids do a traditional dance, which was cute.
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And I got to try some unique stadium food. No hotdogs here, folks. There was pizza, which my friends went for. But I took a chance on a guy with a basket selling "patie." It's a snack from the Caribbean, a small pastry filled with meat and beans. I got mine with chili, so it had a little kick. Pretty tasty.

When the game was over, everyone filed out. Again, it was a rather uneventful ending. We might try to catch one of the more important games if we get a chance. I know there are some serious rivalries here.


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Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Falling Apart
It is 73 days, 18 hours, 14 minutes and 26 seconds until Saturday, December 15, 2007 at 9:00:00 AM (San Jose time).

I jinxed myself. My class got down to 2 students, and the school's owner decided it was no longer profitable to keep it going. So they kicked the students to the curb, explaining that it was too expensive to pay their teacher. It's a harsh reminder that private English schools in Costa Rica are all about the money, not the education. I'm left to scrape by on substitute gigs until they find more students. Luckily, I think I have enough money saved to pay rent and bills for the rest of the year.

As if to add salt to the wound, my glasses broke on Sunday. Snapped right in half. I have another pair, so I can still see. But I really liked those glasses. I'm noticing other things are wearing down, too. Some tshirts have little holes. I've had to sew a few pairs of socks. I replaced a button on one of my work shirts. And one pair of khakis is currently held together with a safety pin. So, while it's possible to live for almost a year with a very limited wardrobe (5 work shirts, 2 khakies, 1 jeans, 2 shorts, 4 tshirts, etc), the clothes do suffer.

I can feel the days counting down. I've gotten a lot out of this experience. In fact, if I had to leave tomorrow, I'd feel like I wasn't missing anything. There's more to see and do, of course. And there are plenty of things I'll miss. But I'm building up my goodbyes for Costa Rica.


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