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Updated: Mar 6, 2018

Spending a US holiday amongst gracious, kind-hearted people ushered the heart into a new understanding of what community means.

November 27, 2015

This is their life. I am just visiting, unsure to whether or not it could be my next home, but learning and absorbing so much about the culture as I go.

Helping hands..

To start the third day at Lomo Mai, I thought it would be in the Thanksgiving spirit to volunteer my morning helping the workers pick coffee. They and the roosters were up before dawn. I joined at around 5AM. Edith, whom I was staying with, was out in the kitchen preparing breakfast. I'd been staying at a CO-OP, or better said, the remnants of a cooperative. So, two of the neighbors would be joining us in the days' work. And it was also someone else's field we would be picking on, also done as a friendly service to the land owner. It's more just a good community of neighbors than anything else. They strive to be self-sufficient, but its hot and rains heavily through the year, so only certain crops can grow. Volunteers still exist within the coop program, mostly from Germany & Austria. The lots of lands that were donated are dispersed pretty randomly and some disputes about ownership have arisen.

On Edith's plot they were raising four chanchos, a ton of chickens, baby chicks, four dogs, and two girls, one with child, two boys, both of working age, Santiago- her grandson, her husband and us in the guest quarters. The guest quarters were on the backside of the one story house and was unfinished framing. It had open windows, which in the Costa Rican heat was ideal. There was an attached bathroom with a shower and no curtain, so when the shower ran, the whole bathroom got wet. Outside the room was a hammock that some of the younger kids liked to lounge in to spy on the actions of their house guests. Also nearby were the holdings for the pigs. You could smell their stench awful bad, so I would go out with the hose and spray the shit off them twice a day. They loved the water and would make a ruckus sticking their snouts up at me and lapping at the water.

(a chancho is a pig, not to be used for naming pork meat)

To the Fields..

The day went smoothly. The five of us plus every dog and one extra we picked up along the way, made the hike up the road to the café plants. They're a seasonal crop and of two varieties - Verano o Invierno. We were making the first rounds on the summer crop. The bushes were of different ages. As they stop producing, they are hacked down, so some were fresh starter bushes. Coffee will continue to grow beans for ten years. When the berry goes from green to red, its time to pick. Until the last harvest, in which all are taken.

(The four seasons of the year are: Primavera, Verano, Otoño and Invierno. Starting with Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter)

We moved down the aisles of plants, spreading out. The ladies chatted. Edith sometimes sang songs. We had laundry hampers tied to our waists for holding the collected beans. It was all too typical, but rankly not the hardest work. A lot of people are just lacking the drive for agricultural labor. We worked from 6am to 12pm with a break in between to enjoy hot gallo pinto con maduros y queso fresco. Had drank hot café from a thermos. As the sun started to show and the cool grew hot, one of the ladies, Jamie, insisted on talking about fresca and juicy piñas. All of which making us thirsty and the last few hours go by a lot slower.

(Gallo pinto is a typical rice and beans dish. Maduros are the ripened version of plantains, pan fried and sweet tasting. Queso fresco is typically a white cheese, similar in taste to a softer, fresher mozzarella. Fresca, means fresh, but it is referring to very sweet lemonade. Piñas are pineapples and were a staple crop in the area.)

When we had cleared the plot, we measured the collected beans in a basket and the men who came to collect the harvest filled empty feed sacks. The women would earn a slight income for the labor, but not the product as it belonged to the land owner whom we were helping. He has elderly and could no longer work the fields himself. We did about an even six baskets in total. Not great, but also not bad considering many of the berries were not ripe yet. The men loaded the sacks onto the ready and waiting mule and thankfully we could stroll back with only what we came in with.

Jamie suggested we bathe in the river together after lunch. It sounded like a refreshing idea. Once back, Edith heated up more gallo pinto, fresh tomate y pepino and a bowl of the ayote, which I think is a pumpkin/squash type thing. We talking about prices of meats and somehow got onto the subject of apple cider vinegar. I had been hunting for that product for some time and only could find it in the gallon size. Turns out Edith had made a batch of piña cider vinegar, very similar to the kombucha I brewed back in Florida. She pulled from beneath the outdoor kitchen counter a jar and poured myself and Ita, the German volunteer who had been eating with us a glass. Ita sat looking at it unsure. She was a fickle eater and I could tell was loosing weight due to her uncertainties of the foreign lands and its food cultures. This would moment would be no exception for her. It smelled foul and tasted acidic, but thats the ticket in alkalizing the body. In a very similar process, she used the rind of an organically grown piña, sugar and water and let it ferment in a open jar. She said it grew an hongo, which is a fungus or a SCOBY, just like with the Kombucha brewing.

(Hongo most often refers to mushrooms, but in this instance means fungus)

Santiago came in and proudly flipped through his kindergarten coloring lesson book. I've been extremely impressed with the articulation of this 5 year old boy. I looked and listened to his explanations as the artist in me sat enamored by the use of collage, mixed techniques for painting and adding physical dimensions to the drawings.

To the river..

It was time to meet Jamie, so I headed off to find her. Down the road I found her house, where a girl was cutting a guy's hair with a straight razor. He looked sharp! Jamie came out and we started walking up the street. She didn't stop talking, but thats part of the reason I'm here. To hear people's perspectives and life stories. We got out past the park the Kulpi volunteers from Austria built in 2010. It was a a nice clean, green space with fresh grass, cement picnic tables and some children's' swing sets. It didn't look like it was used much and only two teens were hanging out at the far end with their bikes leaned up against a tree.

Getting to the river this time was much shorter. Its ironic the other river is named, El Sonidor or The Noise Maker and this one we were going to was the larger, noisier one. The water was cold and moving quickly. I inched my way out allowing the lower extremities to go numb before going further. Jamie went in ahead and was already swimming short spurts across a calm spot. In the middle the water was gushing intensely around two sides of a carved boulder. I made my way out to it, to sit atop and take in the splendor. I noticed how the scale of the rocks grew from the little pebbles, to the enormous but similarly shaped pebbles. All, seeming like they had just been tossed about by some giant. The water flowed so smoothly and continuously. Its a strange mixture of past, present and future when considering the flow of a river.

The whole time I had been sizing up a very fun looking idea. We saw the rain coming, and were about to scramble to get out, but before we left I knew I wanted to go down and through the gushing rapid water channel. I let go of my hold and let the water take over. I didn't expect it to pick me up and carry me along helpless until I bumped off a rock and could finally slow myself down. It was certainly the thrill I had imagined. Jamie mentioned the risk of being in the river during rain as you aren't aware of what's happening upstream. Flood water could come down on you quickly.

We got out safe and sound, no tidal waves and walked back in the steady rain. Of course Jamie chatted the entire way. We stopped at the covered terrace of the closed pulpería to exchange contact info. She was a nice girl my age and would be interesting to keep in touch with. We'll likely see her in the fields again tomorrow.

(A pulpería is a convenience store, selling grocery and scholastic supplies.)

This is their life. I am just visiting, unsure to whether or not it could be my next home, but learning and absorbing so much about the culture as I go.

Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ORDINARY.

-Cecil Beaton

November 29, 2015 - LIMÓN

I caught the last bus out of San José to Limón, which unfortunately occurred at the same time the last bus left Limón for Puerto Viejo, my intended destination. I knew I was running into trouble, but sometimes getting the extra leg of travel in at the risk of falling from the plan is worth it. It ended up fine, but not knowing the city I was landing in and being in the later evening hours certainly has its challenges.

After 3 hours on a jam packed semi-direct bus, I arrived in Limón. I say semi-direct bus, because every direct bus I've been on will make stops either between or closer in to the city to pick up and drop people off that use it as their commuter transportation. Not to mention all the way through the city it continues to let off people where they want. Can't say I will have it any other way, as I too have used this feature of the bus system to my advantage.

heMy only request for this bus, was it was late, a bumpy ride and so they turned the interior lights on upon every stopping. And they played two of the most ridiculously cheesy Spanish songs on repeat the entire way. It was an endurance test of listening to it or the lady who drug huge garbage bags to the back and incessantly pawed through them. Or perhaps it was finding a comfortable way to position oneself with a hard metal wire cutting across the seat at the shoulder blades. I think it, plus t fact I could fin no air bnb listing, or any form of lodging that was affordable online that made this the worst bus ride yet. And the caveat was going from seedy, filthy San José to dark, dripping, oozing, slobbering, sliding into a pit of decrepit decay, Limón.

It was active, but only around bars pumping loud music, with people lingering around its spots. Collectivo drivers basically telling you where to go and in between and undoubtedly walking along trash-filled streets that walls had been painted daily with foul smelling urine. I can't say the people were mean or harsh. A few were even speaking to me in English, asking if I needed help as I circled the blocks comparing the dinginess and seediness of the available hotels. All of which appeared as those, hourly-type spots. Outside of the Big Boy Hotel, a couple women were lurking and slipped through the door before it closed like cats waiting for the opportunity to sneak inside. But the Hotel Miami was the clear winner at $38 for the whole night. At this point, my only option was to get myself and the looming big pack out of the sight of these streets. The room was made up well enough and freshened as much as semen stained linens can be. I kept a towel beneath me as a barricade. And once I was able to cancel the thoughts of disgustingness out, I had a fairly good nights sleep. In the morning, I'll get on a bus to go find this chocolate man in Puerto Viejo.

(A collectivo is a taxi driver)

#travel #SanJose #expedition #CostaRica #seedy

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