5/15 - Just past sunrise and it's cool. No discernible breeze at the moment. And no rain. It's dawning a bright and sunny day, but it's rainy season, it could be raining like hell in an hour. The birds hold sway over the awakening jungle choir, the dominant note being the strange hollow warble of the Oropendolas. No howler monkeys this morning. Sometimes you hear them off in the distance, but often they are close, sometimes right here in the tall trees surrounding the house. Minutes later, I hear them, distant and faint. Last week there was either a major territorial dispute, or a boisterous gathering of the tribes some distance away. It was raucous. I expect they could be heard for miles, but they were much closer than that. It made me think of the UN or the British parliament. Raising hell they were.
Some random photos:
An orange and purple grasshopper.
A large, prehistoric-looking Jesus lizard.
Another long-tailed tyrant.
Apparently a bunch of baby iguanas have recently hatched. I've been finding them in my kitchen. They are a startling jade green. Baby iguana 1.
Baby iguana 2.
Baby iguana 3.
Baby iguana 4.
A strange new bird. I believe it's a Squirrel Cuckoo. Cool name.
There's a frog on my eggs.
A red-headed gecko.
A Fiery-Billed Aracari.
Fiery-Billed Aracari in the act of launching.
Dragonfly on cable.
A Keel-Billed Toucan come to say goodbye.
A blue-faced skink.
It's about an hour later now. The howlers are ramping up, getting closer. There may be a dispute or it may just be a party. It seems at first a one-note serenade but, listening carefully, one can discern subtle and not so subtle variations in tone, tempo, volume and duration. It is in fact a conversation. If only I had an interpreter. I would be very curious to know what they go on about. It seems they have much to discuss.
5/19 – Awoke at first light, howlers in the neighborhood, incensed about something. It's one of those days when the sky is half sunshine and half storm clouds. It could go either way.
I keep weighing the pros and cons of living here. It's a mixed bag of stuff. On the one hand there is the stark physical beauty, the deep color, the raw jungle. The jungle constantly reminds you of its living presence. Only rarely and only briefly silent, it, at turns, serenades, lullabies, mesmerizes and arouses. The jungle luxuriates in every shade of green, vibrant, shimmering, radiant in the strong clear light of the equatorial sun, punctuated and accented by the full spectrum of plant and flower colors: yellows, oranges, pinks, reds, purples and blues.
Here comes the rain. So now we know. For a brief time it was raining when I looked to the left while the sun shone brightly on the right. Isn't that just the way? How did we come to be so cursed?
The flip side of the visual feast that is Costa Rica are all the minor and major inconveniences. Nothing is easy here. Convenience is not a thing. If anything is ever easy or convenient it comes as a surprise. Most everything just isn't. Hungry for some food that isn't your usual fare? Good luck with that. You have choices but they are nothing compared to what people routinely have in the states. No home delivery of food. No running down to some fast food joint for a quick bite. No skipping from one ethnic cuisine to the next. Not without plenty of cash. I'm telling you, it's really quite expensive here, especially restaurant meals. I eat breakfast out once or twice a week, but that's an indulgence. Frugal ones must hunt and gather here and make do. There is plenty, one would never starve, the jungle is bursting with fruit to be scavenged. Most people buy it at the market though, often from those willing to brave the jungle, which is chock full of snakes, bugs, thorns, brambles or things like the devil tree – the jungle harbors a million things that want to eat you. If you venture in, don't stand still, watch your step and don't touch anything. There are a lot of things out there you don't want crawling up your leg. There are at least three ant varieties you don't want to be bitten by, one of them called a bullet ant because that's what their bite feels like. While the jungle is spectacular and easy to admire, you don't want to plunge too deeply into it without you have a damned good reason.
“Don’t touch that tree,” Balée said.5/20 – Awoke at first light. Looks to be a sunny day, at least for starters. More random observations about life on the Talamanca coast:
I froze. I was climbing a low, crumbly hill and had been about to support myself by grasping a scrawny, almost vine-like tree with splayed leaves. “Triplaris americana,” said Balée, an expert in forest botany. “You have to watch out for it.” In an unusual arrangement, he said, T. americana plays host to colonies of tiny red ants—indeed, it has trouble surviving without them. The ants occupy minute tunnels just beneath the bark. In return for shelter, the ants attack anything that touches the tree—insect, bird, unwary writer. The venom-squirting ferocity of their attack gives rise to T. americana’s local nickname: devil tree.
from Charles Mann's 1491
Food spoils quickly here, best to shop for what you will eat that day or the next.
I now understand why the indoor/outdoor style is so prevalent here.
Without robust air circulation, the humidity will quickly cause mold. I discovered to my horror that my two OPOL hats, left in the suitcase, had molded big time.
And you don't want to seal up your pot here, best to let it breathe. OPOL hats too. I have them soaking in vinegar water.
They have coinage here in 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones denominations. 500 colones is a buck, actually a little less now. I think it's currently around 554 colones to the US dollar. There are paper bills too. The coins come to you as change quite often and accumulate since the paper money is easier and before you know it you have to off-load the change because it weighs you down. Most everything costs in the thousands of colones - it ain't cheap here. So the tendency is to pluck a one, two, five or ten thousand colone note rather than to start tediously counting out your coin stash.
5/28 - Everybody here's just a little crazy – no different than anywhere else, really. True of us all in one way or another. In addition to the usual, there's a peculiar kind of crazy here these days as well – fueled by crack. You can buy crack for a buck a rock, apparently a good-sized one, because of the proximity to Colombia and the Caribbean. At that price, you almost can't afford to not smoke it. Or so many here seem to think. Free coconuts and bananas, and crack for a buck. Paradise.
A few weeks back, Daniel landed a gig as a house-sitter at the house of a famous or semi-famous writer, just down the road.
Apparently the writer in question, who is now in England, is a cranky old eccentric and world-class asshole. He abuses his employees, calls everyone stupid and generally makes everyone miserable. He yells and denigrates everyone he looks down upon, which is everyone. No one else in the world is intelligent, or worthy or a darling genius like his illustrious self. Only him. People hate and fear him. What a waste of precious time on this planet. Life is too short to go around increasing the misery of those blessed with our presence. That's what I love about (most) artists, they're always trying to make things just a little better, 'here, look at this!' Why would you increase suffering, not alleviate it? How can you live ethically without trying to help out in ways great or small? Who can look at the world as it is and say it needs more nastiness? Who thinks there is insufficient suffering in the world?
So anyway, house-sitting is a big thing in Costa Rica. Many of the people who own houses here are only here part of the year, usually during what are the winter months in the States, but it varies. In the meanwhile, anything left unwatched tends to disappear without a trace, so trustworthy house-sitters are generally in demand. Mike and Alice Olson first told us about that. They knew a couple that made something of a business out of it.
In Daniel's case, money promised for the service, and to pay gardeners, maids, etc trickles in late leaving Daniel holding the bag. They owe him over two-hundred dollars at this point. He's not happy.
He is not happy so much that he's talking about leaving Cahuita. I'm pondering whether or not I'll go with him when he goes. I guess I probably will. I will miss it, but it's hard living here.
If the myth of high quality, cheap, universal healthcare had been true, I might have chosen to stay. I love the raw physical beauty of it, the feel of the tropical sun, the toucans, mangoes, pineapples, papayas, coconuts and bananas. But the two biggest things we came here for (quality healthcare and cheap living) do not exist. Rent and utilities are cheaper but everything else is the same or more expensive than in the U.S. Cars, for example, are way more expensive because of a giant import tax. And the car you pay so much for will soon be beat all to crap by the roads. While it once was cheap, it no longer is. On balance it will cost you as much to live here as in the States.
There is also the fact that most long-term expats, at least here in the Caribbean coastal region, have had dengue fever, and many have had leishmaniosis or other tropical diseases. My neighbor told me that there are at least nine current cases of leishmaniosis on our little strip of beach alone. He also told me about how often he's been sick here with fevers up to a hundred and four and all the skin rashes he's had, etectera. The local biota is a constant threat and the disease risk is elevated if not substantial.
As much as I will miss it, it might be best to move on...especially with Daniel leaving.
I still have my eye on Uruguay, but I may be headed back to the states for a time while I plot my next move.
5/29 – Looks like another day of rain with mixed intense sunshine. Things have devolved here in neverland, and a part of me is brokenhearted about it. As equivocal as I was about staying for all of the aforesaid reasons, I was on the verge of making a decision to wish Daniel well and commit to staying here for the long term. Alas.
5/31 – A decision has been made. We are coming back to the States to regroup.
I'll keep you posted.
Thank you for your interest and support.