Adventures of the Heart
Mary Zalmanek
Costa Rica - We're on our own now

Friday, September 28, 2001 3

Hola Amigos y Familia!

The owners left on Wednesday morning.  The training period is over and we are officially the managers of a lovely Costa Rican bed & breakfast.  This is it!

The only guests we had on our first solo morning were some friends of Bill and Jeff's.  Steven and Scott had been running the place off and on for a while this summer while Bill and Jeff were in New York and Guatemala.  Since they had been here a few days with us, they felt like old friends.  I thought they would be safe people to experiment on with breakfast dishes from home.  I made a baked pancake that always fluffs up nice and light at 7500 feet in the right-sized glass pie pan.  The altitude and an odd-shaped casserole dish conspired to give me a heavy, doughy mess.  They were very kind and ate it anyway.

Soon after breakfast, Daisy and Gato came by with their vegetable truck.  I am still in awe of the price of food in Costa Rica. Let me tell you what I bought and you can guess how much it costs:

  •      3 pounds of green beans
  •      1 head of leaf lettuce
  •      2 ears of corn
  •      2 sweet potatoes
  •      1 tomato
  •      4 oranges
  •      2 beets
  •      1 bunch of cilantro
  •      1 bunch of parsley

The grand total was the equivalent of $3.96.  Of course, we cannot live by vegetables alone, so Jim went to the butcher to get two pork chops. Add another $1.60 to the grocery bill.

We are well stocked with delicious tropical fruits, such as bananas, papayas, pineapple and watermelon.  When we need bananas, Jose will cut some from the trees and leave them in the bodega to ripen.  For our Margaritas, Jim picked limes from the tree fifteen feet from the building.  After looking through a cookbook for tropical fruits, I noticed a breadfruit tree growing by the driveway.  I'll try that for dinner sometime.

The selection is limited, of course.  Food is very simple.  Some of the ingredients in my favorite recipes, like pecans or capers, would be difficult to find here.  Of course, everything is made from scratch.  If I were to make a quiche, I would start by making a piecrust, not defrosting one. 

In the early afternoon, Mainor, a long-time employee who knows just about Howler mom with childeverything there is to know about running this place, motioned for Jim and me to follow him outside.  The howler monkeys were playing in some nearby trees.  When we were here in April, I got one picture of the monkeys sleeping in the trees -- they looked like bumps on logs.  This time they were swinging from the branches, walking out on the limbs, and in general being very entertaining.  Scott took this picture of a mother carrying her child on her back.

By 3:00 Steven and Scott were long gone and Jim was just pulling out to take the employees to the bus stop in Arenal.  That's when our first real guests arrived.  I thought it would be so easy -- why did I have butterflies in my stomach? 

Our first guests were an American doctor, his young son and their Tico guide. They wanted breakfast at 7:00.  That meant I needed to be up by 5:30.  Most of you know that I am not naturally an early riser.  However, the dream, or perhaps I should say nightmare, I was having just before waking about searching for a wine glass nice enough to serve to Tiger Woods disturbed my sleep sufficiently that I had no trouble getting out of bed.  After the baked pancake fiasco, I stuck to the famous, tried-and-true Villa Decary egg loaf.  Our first official breakfast went well enough that I gave Jim and Mainor high fives after our guests were gone.

Life here is very simple.  The pace is slow and people are friendly.  Bills are paid in cash by going to the place of business or the bank to pay on the account.  On payroll day, we leave the cash for each employee on the table on top of his or her pay record.  Each person knows what the others make, and there appears to be no animosity or jealousy regarding the size of the paychecks. 

Sometimes people will even come here to collect payments.  One of Villa Decary's trucks is being painted.  The painter and his friend came out to get a payment on the paint job.  They walked around the property and talked to Jim and Mainor.  After 30 minutes or so, they sat down on the front deck to have beers or soft drinks and continued to discuss the weather, fishing and world affairs.  I joined them briefly, but this was clearly men's work so I went to our casita. 

The longer we are here the more beautiful it becomes to me.  We are going on our third straight day with no rain and sunny skies.  The temperatures are usually in the seventies or eighties.  Even with it rains, it's brief (so far).  I know sooner or later we will get a torrential downpour.  I would almost be disappointed if that didn't happen!

The flowers on the grounds are incredible.  I wish I knew all the names, and I am learning some from Mainor.  One large bush has some beautiful bell shaped flowers that open up more at night.  They are called "reina del noche" or queen of the night. In the morning, I pinch some bright yellow flowers for a garnish on the fruit plate.  In a little while, I'll hike around the grounds with a knife to cut some birds of paradise and ginger (yes, those tropical plants that go for $5 a stem or more in the US) for a flower arrangement.

In Colorado impatients are grown with great care since they require so much water.  Years ago, before I realized my limitations as a gardener, I killed many of them.  In Costa Rica they are like weeds. There is a footpath around the grounds that has been overgrown with impatients and other plants.  I took the dictionary down there with Mainor so I could ask him to have the gardeners clear it.  After we spent about ten minutes flipping pages and gesturing, his face lit up and he said, "Si, manana!"  He indicated they would do that as soon as they finished mowing.  Watching the gardeners mow the lawn is a treat in itself.  The hillside is far too steep to use a lawn mower, so they use a weed whacker (chopadora).  These guys are pretty hard workers, but knowing how long the mowing has taken already and how big the lawn is, I really don't expect the path to be cleared by tomorrow. 

Our first Colorado guests/friends, Steve and Sandy, will arrive tomorrow.  I've been searching for new breakfast recipes with local ingredients to keep them well fed for a week.  It's really been fun to learn new recipes from Nuria with a mixture of broken Spanish and sign language.  I'll serve both American and Tico meals, or whatever is more successful than the baked pancake.   

Almost everyday some little thing happens to make me smile.  Today it was the image of Jim hanging our laundry on the clothesline to dry.  I snapped a photo of that!

Thanks for your emails.  Keep sending news, both personal and international, since we get very little here.  While we have Internet access, there is a significant connect charge.  We really only use it to send and download email.  Every couple of days, I look at the headlines on cnn.com.  I did just check airline tickets to Costa Rica, and you can still get here for under $500 (hint, hint).

Warmly,
Mary

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