Adventures of the Heart
Mary Zalmanek
Costa Rica - What "bugs" me

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Hola Amigos y Familia,

On Friday Mainor brought us a copy of the Tico Times.  This was a big event -- a newspaper in English!  Not only did it give Jim and me a lot to talk about, we learned what's going on in the world and what people in Costa Rica think about it.  There seems to be unanimous compassion for the US and condemnation for the terrorists.  Several thoughtful articles, editorials and letters discussed what the US should do now.  The University of Costa Rica had conducted a survey that found 78 percent of the 400 Costa Ricans questioned oppose a US military retaliation against terrorists.  I suppose that's not too surprising for a peace-loving country that doesn't even have an army.  On the other hand, most of the workers around here seemed to think a military strike is necessary.  (At least I THINK that's what they said -- for all I know they could have been discussing beans for lunch or volcanic eruptions!)

One thing that surprises me is that airport security in Central America seems to be much stricter than in the US.  Before we left, Bill and Jeff warned us about several things they were not able to take with them out of San Jose, including camera batteries and umbrellas.  I called Continental to check on this, and they said they never heard of such a thing.  I noticed a letter in the Tico Times in which a woman complained that an airline clerk made her throw away the batteries out of her camera, flashlight and Walkman that was in CHECKED luggage, not carry-on.  The clerk also called airport security to report this contraband.  I wonder if I will be able to take home some of the things I brought in checked luggage, like my pocketknife. 

The terrorists’ attack has had a huge impact on tourism in this country.  Many tourist businesses have laid off employees and cut prices.  Some people are concerned about losing their businesses.  The government plans to spend an additional $1.5 million promoting Costa Rica as a safe, peaceful and nearby destination.  Outside of San Jose, I agree that this country is about as safe and peaceful as you can get. 

And now, back to the lifestyles of the not-very-rich and far-from-famous at Villa Decary... 

Jim and I are both studying Spanish, but we go about it in very different ways. We both talk to the employees with varying degrees of success, and sometimes it takes both of us to hold up one side of the conversation. I bought a workbook on Spanish verb tenses and spend an hour or so each day working the exercises in it.  Jim listens to conversations or music on the radio, picks out words, looks them up in the dictionary or asks Mainor about them, then writes them in his notebook.  I'm more visual; he's more auditory.  Both ways seem to be working okay, but Jim's way may be more practical.  His words have a more immediate use, whereas some of the things I've learned may never work their way into my conversations.  Today I learned to say, "This ice cream has a lot of calories" and "There is a monster in the closet," but that really doesn't help much when I am on the phone trying to get a repairman to fix the computer modem or talking to Mainor about the clutch in the truck. 

I knew there would be bugs down here, but I hoped they would stay in the jungle were they belong.  The little bitty ants that invade the kitchen are the most annoying.  These ants are so little that I couldn't see their legs even with Jim's reading glasses.  Jim called them tiny robotic hovercrafts.  One day they seemed especially bad. No matter how many times I would wipe the counter top, they would come back within hours.  When I cook, I usually clean up right away so the ants don't have a reason to come back.  All food is stored in sealed plastic bags.  Yesterday afternoon, Jim made some margaritas and I prepared a snack of toasted Italian herb bread and goat cheese.  I left a few squares of bread and cheese ends on the cutting board, and took a plate to guests in the dining room.  A couple of hours later, Jim went into the kitchen, picked up a piece of bread, took a bit or two, then noticed it was covered with itty bitty ants.  The thought still makes me cringe!  If you are planning a trip down here, please rest assured that I shake off all crawling things before I serve them.  Actually, I am very careful to get rid of the ants before I prepare any food, but Jim seems to think the best way to get rid of the ants is to scare them by pretending he's going to eat them. 

Steve and Scott, the former Villa Decary inn sitters and our some of our guests at the time, told us about using bug spray in the kitchen every few days.  What a concept!  No wonder the ant population seemed to be getting worse.  Last night just as we were closing down for the night, we sprayed the kitchen.  The kitchen has been practically ant-free all day.  Victory!

Our first Colorado guests, Steve and Sandy, arrived on Saturday.  They were as excited to be here as we were to have them.  I loved being able to show them around the grounds. Jim and Sandy spotted an armadillo as they walked around. 

Shortly after Steve and Sandy were settled in their casita, Steve came to the kitchen door and asked for some ant spray.  I thought they were seeing these little bitty kitchen ants. Steve assured us, however, that these were not small ants.  Jim and I followed Steve back to his casita and found about 200 big, mean-looking ants coming out of the shower drain that looked pretty unhappy about the water that had destroyed their cozy nest.  Jim was able to get rid of them without too much effort.  I sent an email to Bill and Jeff and found out we need to run the water every few days in each of the rooms if they have not been rented.

Steve and Sandy went to the volcano on Monday.  While the volcano is very active, the cloud cover frequently prevents tourists from seeing much of the excitement.  Steve was lucky enough to see a big burst of lava, watch flows on the mountain, hear the boom and feel the ground move.  Sandy, on the other hand, had just gone to the bathroom and only heard it.  Bummer for her!

Mainor and Nuria (Mainor's wife and part-time maid at Villa Decary) brought Jim and I some corn cakes for breakfast on Friday.  They were absolutely delicious and I asked for the recipe.  As near as I could tell, it was nothing more than corn scraped fresh off the cob and run though a blender (liquidora) with some water and salt, and then fried like a pancake.  The key is to use very tender, young corn, and the corn season may be nearing its end.   They are served with natilla, which is a dairy product heavier than cream and lighter than sour cream. 

I've asked Nuria to teach me to make other Tico food as well.  Today she taught me how to make gallo pinto, which is a native beans and rice dish.  (For those of you who are Spanish speakers, I do know I said "spotted rooster” and that is the correct name!  The story goes that the beans and rice mixed together look like a spotted rooster.)  It was tasty!  Now I need to see if I can replicate her recipe. 

When we were initially thinking about coming down here, Bill and Jeff told us our responsibilities would be to: 1) cook breakfast for the guests, 2) talk to guests, 3) make reservations, and 4) handle some paperwork.  The paperwork isn't too bad -- do payroll on Friday, keep track of receipts, and send a packet of information to the accountant once a month.  I wish I could spend more time making reservations; there are some days in October we have nothing on the books.  We do get some drop in guests from time to time.  Talking to guests is my favorite part, of course.  I love learning where people are from and were they are going, what interests them, what they do for a living, or whatever else they want to talk about.  Can you believe it -- that's my job!

Cooking breakfast takes more time than I expected. I didn't realize that to make French toast or croutons, I would start by making the bread.  To make gallo pinto, I make rice and beans the day before.  This isn't really a complaint since I enjoy cooking and it's not like I spend hours commuting in heavy traffic or working in a high stress job.  It just makes me realize how spoiled we are as Americans, how many conveniences we have.  There is no microwave oven or dishwasher here.  By Tico standards this kitchen is probably quite luxurious with two refrigerators and an oven. 

Jeff and Bill had told us we couldn't get good fish down here.  One of the Tico neighbors stopped by for a chat this morning and mentioned that his family ate mostly fish.  I asked where he got it, and he said from the lake.  Oh, of course.  I asked if I could buy it somewhere in town and he said, "Si, at the pool hall."  Anyone familiar with local customs is probably wondering why it didn't occur to us to by fish at the pool hall.   Some people have to be told everything -- spray for ants, run water in the drains, buy fish at the pool hall! 

Today is the first day in almost two weeks we've been here that it has rained very much.  Most of the day we've had a light drizzle, with big raindrops falling intermittently.  It's usually not that driving, run-for-cover rain that we sometimes get in Colorado. The temperature is very pleasant -- not too hot or too cold (or no muy frio o calor).  I'm actually enjoying the rain.  Of course, that's easy for me to say.  I'm not doing a canopy tour like Steve and Sandy.  Let's hope that fifteen miles away the skies are clear and blue. 

Thanks for all your emails.  We really enjoy all news, personal and otherwise. 

Como siempre (as always),
Mary & Jim

P.S. Good news!  Sandy and Steve just returned with glowing reports about the canopy tour.  Even though it was raining, they were protected from the rain by the rainforest canopy.  They enjoyed the trees and plants, the animals and the adventure of the zip lines.

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