June 28, 2006

6-25 Sobre de las montaŮas y lejano

I was either in an airport or on a plane from 10:30pm (PST) Thursday night until I landed in Costa Rica at about 2:30pm (MST) Friday. So worth it. In the morning when I walk just outside the front door, I get to look at this (Someone send me an email if the image below is irredeemably dark, it looks a lot different on the machine Iīm working on than it did on mine.):

Out the front door, Coto Brus, Costa Rica, 6-25-06. Ė natasha

A friend of mine who works at my college arranged for me to stay in San Jose, the capital, with two Nicaraguan sisters whose family sheís known for 20 years. They speak a little English, but not much and not fast, which is to say that their English is better than my Spanish. There are no street signs outside downtown San Jose, so knowledge of landmarks is essential for navigation and I was pretty dependent on my hostesses throughout our bus travels across town. When I wrote my professor about it, she said that her favorite directions from her time living in San Jose were, í75m south of the old fig tree,í which had been cut down so that you had to know where the fig tree had once been.

Iíve known how to read since I was about 3, so Iíve had no clear, conscious memory of being functionally illiterate. Until now. Itís very unnerving. But when in doubt, buy a pipa (a young coconut with smooth, green skin) to drink from a street vendor. Theyíll hack the top off with a machete, youíll put a straw through the thin film thatís left across the top end and drink the juice. Itís mild, not sweet, very refreshing. After, todos es bien. If you only know two Spanish words, es bien, which could mean alternately itís alright/itís good/itís fine and depending on your inflection, never mind, is a good phrase to know. But of course, you should know at least six other Spanish words, which are gracias and por favor (I know you know those two), perdon (pare-DOAN) and disculpe (dees-COOL-pay) me (may). Perdon is pretty much Ďexcuse me,í while disculpe me is ĎIím sorry,í but literally, Ďforgive me.í

The bus ride Sunday morning from San Jose to Agua Buena was about 6 hours. (In a concession to those of my friends who are gung-ho for privatization, the bus line we took for the long, Sunday ride as well as the prompt and frequent city buses of San Jose and surrounds, were all privately run. Theyíre in better shape than some of the bus lines Iíve been on in the U.S. The seats are pretty comfy, and theyíre very accommodating about what constitutes a bus stop.) There were some patches of the ride that were pretty warm, but most of the time we were higher in the mountains or at least had a good breeze going, so it was fine.

I didnít want to read and risk motion sickness on the winding roads and you can only sleep so long. But the trip was in no way boring because I couldnít get enough of looking out the window. Maybe itís just because itís so different from what Iím used to, but I donít think Iíve ever seen in person any place more beautiful than the Costa Rican countryside. The vegetation is a very bright, emerald green and it stands out starkly against the orange-red soil. Almost every patch of ground is covered in green, but more than that, even from a distance the forest is a very blunt, living text in the difference between much of the wet tropics and the temperate zones in the Americas.

It doesnít take long looking at forest cover here to see how much more diverse it is, in size, shape, type of understory and ground cover, just from one small patch to another. When youíre used to looking at a forest like the Northwest coniferous forests, the difference really jumps out. In the Northwest, thereís a great deal of continuity in composition among tree stands of the same age or on continuous patches of a given soil type, and they tend to be dominated by two to four kinds of trees. Maybe the odd dogwood or madrone is thrown in for good measure. Here, itís an outright riot of competing photosynthesizers.

In Coopebuena, three members of my homestay family were waiting at the bus station to pick me up. I think the 8 year-old boy speaks the most English, heís been studying it at school for two years. His older sister has been studying English longer, but I get the impression that either she feels about it pretty much like I felt about my high school Spanish, not useful enough to remember longer than the next test, or that she can read it better than she can speak it. I could empathize on either count. They are all wonderfully kind and patient, but I will tell you that the negotiations about when I needed to get up in the morning were Ö incentivizing.

I was talking with a friend before I got here and we were wondering what exactly Costa Rican food was like. Was it like Mexican food? None of us knew. Anyway, itís delicious. Just very, very tasty. Thereís usually some chile sauce present, but I havenít tried it yet, mostly because Iím afraid of strange chiles. Which is funnier when considering that I rather like Thai, Mexican and Indian food. Gallo pinto, rice with black beans, is served with most meals, along with the other staple, fried plantains. Plantains are a type of banana that isnít good to eat raw, but taste amazing fried in a little oil and salt. Banana heaven. Some other vegetables seem to usually be included, squash, carrots, corn, chayote (which Iíve never seen in the U.S.), sometimes potatoes, all cooked to a pleasant consistency with a mild but savory seasoning. The meat portion of the meal is often served in a sauce thatís similar to an enchilada sauce, but thinner and more savory than spicy. There may be a little of the fresh cheese they make here, which is stored in water and unaged, sort of like goat cheese is usually found in the U.S. All in all, it seems like a pretty healthy cuisine and with a greater variety of vegetables than Iím used to in the stateside Mexican food that it resembles.

Iím shutting the computer down now and turning out the lights before the eveningís complement of bugs decide to mount a coordinated attack. I know that the darkness actually discourages them from coming into the room, which I will keep telling myself. You, however, can enjoy the snaps I got from the flights over the U.S. Unfortunately, I was asleep when the flight landed in Costa Rica, so aerial photographs from here will have to wait until August. Enjoy the air travel pictures below the fold Ö

The Dallas morning sky was particularly lovely when I set off.

The sky over the Dallas airport, 6-23-06. Ė natasha

The C wing of the Miami airport definitely seems to be an unloved stepchild, with a drastic drop-off in air conditioning and bathrooms that are so hellishly warm and humid that youīre really better off hiking the 10-15 minutes to another wing. Really. It was the sort of experience that could remind a person that Miami is sitting on a swamp. And arenīt swamps really better in their natural state, anyway?

Florida swamp from the air, 6-23-06. Ė natasha

Yet another Florida swamp from the air, 6-23-06. Ė natasha

I kid Miami. It looked nice from the air and I have nothing to judge it on but the airport. On the other hand, this picture of what I presume are the Keys made me want to visit again sometime.

Off the Florida coast, 6-23-06. Ė natasha


Posted by natasha at June 28, 2006 05:04 PM | Costa Rica | Technorati links |

Natasha, if the chili sauce you are referring to is Lizano sauce you should definitely try it. I found it to be absolutely delicious. I even brought some back with me when I visited there a few years ago.

It sounds like you are having a wonderful time, big bugs and all. Thanks for the wonderfully newsy report.

Posted by: Mary at June 28, 2006 10:15 PM

Have used my photo editing software to "brighten up" your photo. It is definitely a beautiful view - and the brilliant greens and rich reds definitely are something that you need to see to believe.

Posted by: Mary at June 29, 2006 12:42 AM