Previous episodes in this series include:As previously noted, we became disenchanted with Palmares and began to contemplate our options. Before becoming obligated to a long-term rental there in Palmares, we decided we'd take a quick trip to Puerto Viejo, where Daniel had begun his journey but to which I had never been. Daniel raved about the place. He loved it. Sure enough, when we got there I loved it too. Rimming the beautiful blue Caribbean sea, with a beach lined with coconut palms, redolent in cannabis and surrounded by the most luscious green jungle you can imagine, all basking in the tropical sun. It's visually spectacular. It's also a bird and bird lover's paradise.
After just a few days we returned to Palmares, gathered our stuff, spent one last night above the pulperia and headed back to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca as fast as we could go.
Sometimes ya just gotta take a nap.
To set the tone for the Irie Zone:
Our new digs in the Irie Zone are bonafied third-world accommodations. The building is an only partially enclosed concrete and plaster structure that's seen a lot of living.
Partial walls topped by wooden lattice let in the breeze, which is wonderful, and the bugs, which takes some getting used to. Flying bugs? We got 'em. Crawling ones too.
Thank what gods may be for mosquito netting. Now if only I could figure out how to keep it perfectly arranged in proper protective fashion whilst I do my regular tossing and turning routine. I am at war with the mosquitoes, though I am learning to accept them as a part of life...but more at war I would say.
My son, the bodhisattva, chastises me for caring about such matters. He is much more into embracing the suck than I am. For some strange reason he has trained himself to be a stoic. He always had his own mind and his mother and I always encouraged him to be as different as he liked. And boy did he. He could happily live under a bridge, in a tree or a cave, or in an octopuses garden beneath the sea. Me, while I have lived for extended periods of time in the most horrible of circumstances, and I'm talking jail cells where the dirt had history and the mattresses reeked of urine, and while I spent a lot of time hitchhiking around the country sleeping where I could, even spent some time as a street urchin in L.A., I have never entirely overcome my attachment to middle class American comfort. In the end, I must confess: I like my comfort and I like it in great big fluffly boat-loads. For all my hippie-tude, there are too many ways in which I am just one more spoiled American. You get used to plumbing that can handle toilet paper, all those cool places that deliver pizza and Chinese food right to your door, and, you know, all that water and stuff 24/7. But I'm adjusting. Being in the Irie Zone helps.
Our journey has an ever-changing character, one minute Gilligan's Island, the next minute Heart of Darkness. There's a price one pays for paradise. It comes with bugs, hustlers, thieves, sunburn and questionable water every other day...if it rains. Small prices to pay, you might say. And, depending on the day, I might agree.
Lately we've been going rounds with the local biota and for several days the biota has been winning. The problem with 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' is that if it does kill you, all bets are off. The fight ain't over yet. I'll keep you posted if at all possible. Hopefully it's not one of those 'I fought the biota and the biota won' situations.
Given the biota scenario that has dragged on now for over a week, I am weak and dehydrated. As hungry as I am and as much as I need the nutrition, I'm beginning to wonder if this tangerine I'm peeling is worth the effort. I think I'll put it down, hopefully on some relatively bio-free surface, and give the matter some thought.
Several hours later and I'm feeling better. Travelers may be familiar with the equatorial funk wherein you endure, and you're digging it, but you've felt better. Life in the tropics has its challenges. My legs are so chewed up by bugs that I look like I have leprosy. But the jungle and the beach are so beautiful that it seems worth it...or almost worth it.
When I first saw this house my heart sank. I found myself immediately struggling with my first world sensibilities. It was $200 a month cheaper than most anywhere else and Daniel wanted it immediately. I didn't want to be inflexible or disappoint him by being all first world gringo so we went for it. While it had seen a whole lotta livin', it hadn't seen much cleaning. It looked like an ecoli factory to me. But I valiantly tried to get down with it. We took it, obviously. Little did we know, though it wasn't all that shockingly surprising, that we'd both soon come down with what may turn out to be terminal diarrhea. I'll let you know if we survive.
Here's the irie fish in our irie bathroom in the Irie Zone.
I'm fascinated by the birds here. I know nothing about them, or birds in general, but they are certainly something. I think Costa Rica is going to turn me into an ornithologist yet. In the mean time I will just refer to this guy as a red-backed something or other. A beautiful bird.
And here's a crane I found fishing at the beach.
I was so excited when I saw my first Toucans. A whole flock of them landed in the lime tree out front. They move fast but I managed to get one good shot of one just after it had skipped to another nearby tree.
And hummingbirds. With a profusion of flowers of every hue, this place is hummingbird heaven. But talk about hard to photograph. They're there one minute and gone the next. So far I've only managed to capture the ones who sat for their photos. I dream of catching one in flight.
This one was just flexing to take off. Kind of a cool effect with the light coming through his or her tail feathers.
There was also non-bird life of interest. I shot this pic of a couple of sloths from our porch.
And this guy, a howler monkey (they don't really howl so much as roar) was just down the road a piece. Check out the grip he's got with that tail, made me think of Got a Grip.
Anyway, when we completed the 6-hour bus ordeal from Palmares to San Jose and finally to Puerto Viejo, we checked in at the hostel Daniel had booked for us. It was where he had stayed when he began his Costa Rican journey and he had loved it. It was in an old post and beam two-story with generous veranda space, lots of common area and an authentic, homey Costa Rican feel. The vibe was relaxed, the staff helpful and friendly and the other guests from around the world interesting and sociable.
We arrived back in Puerto Viejo from Palmares on Monday. On Tuesday we met up with Mike and Alice Olson who were vacationing along the eastern coast of Costa Rica. They'd been in Tortuguera, where they had a great time touring and birding, and then made it down to Puerto Viejo. They took us out for a fabulous meal at one of the best-rated restaurants in the area. It was a real treat for Daniel and me. We enjoyed it immensely. I should have taken photos of the food before we devoured it but I was too distracted by hunger and good company. This pic of the aftermath will have to do.
We came to know one of the staffers at our hostel pretty well. He was friendly, cheerful and helpful. Call him Fred. Fred was a European expat living here with his wife and young child. He obtained ganja for the guests who wanted it - as a service, he said. The prices were crazy but we were told that's how it is here. He made nothing on the transactions and just wanted to help the guests avoid trouble with street hustlers and the popo. He was all about making people happy. He was practically a saint. So when we decided we wanted to move to Puerto Viejo instead of into the place coming available in Palmares, we asked Fred if he knew of any houses or apartments that we might rent by the month. He was eager to help. He told us the house next door to his place was available and for only $300 a month. That's how we ended up moving into the hellhole section of hell and catching the gut bug of all gut bugs...but it was irie, mon. Pura vida.
Most of our neighbors in the Irie Zone were rastamen from Jamaica. Our landlord had dreads to his waist. I looked forward to learning more about rasta-culture. I dig the vibe. The Jamaican patois is half understandable, half unintelligible. It's funny but it seems understandable when the landlord's asking us for money and unintelligible when we are asking him for hot water. Ah well, don't worry about a ting. Every little ting's gonna be alright.
So, as dismayed as I was upon first seeing our Irie Zone pad (I was fine with it except for the dirt and grime, which came awfully damned close to exceeding my comfort level), we were very happy to be next door neighbors with Saint Fred entirely because we had yet to ascertain his true nature. He seemed overjoyed that we wanted to move there. We thought we'd found a true friend. We thought we were being welcomed into the local community and would soon be hooked up with all kinds of new friends and have a direct line into the permaculture scene, as Fred claimed to, and may in fact, as far as I know, know everyone involved in permaculture throughout Costa Rica. We couldn't believe our luck.
Once we moved in though we never heard from Fred again except when he was trying to hustle us with ridiculously priced pot, crazy land deals or dubious local charities desperately in need of gringo money. There was no camaraderie, no introductions to permaculturists, no nothing but the short con, the long con and the shameless two-faced hustle.
A useful skill for a liar is remembering the lies or contradictory truths he has already told. This was a fatal flaw for dear old Fred, but good for us because we figured him out in under a week. The shit just kept rolling and the inconsistencies were plenty. Saint Fred was quite the snake in the grass it turns out.
He and one of his Jamaican cohorts tried to sell us a pathetic little strip of the cohort's side yard for only $40,000. "Ready for building," said the owner. Fred seemed to have forgotten that he'd already told us a moratorium on building was coming in four months. So we had, at most, four months to build a tiny odd-shaped house on our $40,000 strip of side yard. What a deal.
There are just so many ways you can go wrong and we keep discovering new ones. Many people tried to warn us not to trust anyone down here. It's good advice. Fortunately for us we were able to extricate ourselves from a bad situation while taking only a minor bath, financially. We had to move out of the house we'd paid a full month's rent for in self-defense before the ecoli, the mosquitoes and the land-sharks sucked us dry. It was painful, but not devastatingly so. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. Daniel and I laughed about it once we understood the deal. You can't get blood from a stone. We were not the gringos they were looking for.
BTW, if anyone would care to help us recover from our friendship with Saint Fred, here's a link to Daniel's PayPal account:
Next installment I'll tell you about our escape from the Irie Zone, a new circle of friends and our new digs in the jungles of Cahuita. It is in the same region but a much cooler part of it. We really think Cahuita is going to prove to be the sweet spot. I have much to tell you about it. Here's a sneak preview of our new house: