Adventures of the Heart
Mary Zalmanek
Costa Rica - Pejiballes: Not just for Ticos anymore

Friday, October 12, 2001

Hola Amigos y Familia, 

Pejiballes, the odd-looking, foul-tasting fruit of a palm tree, has something in common with vegemite from Down Under -- I'm sure it's an acquired taste.  Properly prepared pejiballes are still chalky and bitter, but not so much as to pucker your mouth.  To borrow a line from Dwayne, a good dollop of mayonnaise will take the healthy edge off them.  In a mere two months time, I'm sure this won't make it to my favorite food category, but they aren't bad if you wash them down with beer. 

Just in case you come by a bushel of pejiballes and want the secret recipe, it's easy.  Boil them in salted water for about an hour.  When they are tender (that's a relative term), peel them and take out the seed.   

When the employees left today, I sent most of the pejiballes with them, saving just a few of the less ripe ones for friends and family who will be coming within the next couple of weeks.  Don't you think I should offer them a raw one first so they can fully appreciate how much two hours of boiling improves the flavor and texture?

Jim and I are fast learners.  The very next day after our scorpion encounter, we met his companion.  Ho hum, another scorpion.  No dancing and shouting around the kitchen this time.  We kept an eye on him, hoping he would leave on his own accord.  After about ten minutes, it appeared he liked his spot in the corner a little too much.  First Jim made me promise I would stand far away from the light switch, and then he took a broom and simply swept him out the door.   

Jim and I have agreed what we will do with the first $450,000 if we win the lottery.  There is a six-acre estate next door to Villa Decary that is for sale andBathroom with hand-painted murals gorgeous.  Elkin and his wife, Valentina, are the caretakers there.   The caretaker's residence is near the road.  The main house is up the hill at the end of a long and winding driveway lined with lush gardens on either side.  The house is small but very well appointed.  The kitchen has a dishwasher (a rarity in Costa Rica), a Sub Zero refrigerator with a custom-made wooden door (a luxury even in the US), and a wine refrigerator.  The tiled hot tub has a beautiful view of the lake.  There two master suites, each with its own Jacuzzi tub and shower in the bathroom.  There are murals of tropical flowers and monkeys that brighten each bathroom.  We enjoyed thinking about how nice it would be to have a vacation home that we could invite each of you to visit.  But enough wishful thinking! 

The reason we went to Elkin's was for a kayaking adventure.  Jim, Elkin and I went sea kayaking on Lake Arenal for several hours.  We hugged the shore looking for monkeys and birds in the dense bamboo groves and papaya trees.  We explored little coves and found some of the most beautiful water lilies I have ever seen.  Elkin said the lilies blew over from the other side of the lake in a windstorm two months ago.  That must have been one heck of a wind because this is a big lake.  Most of the time the weather was overcast but dry and still, not a ripple on the water.  We did have some light rain and one fifteen-minute, row-for-cover downpour.  We found some relief from the rain under a bent bamboo tree.  We got wet, but not cold.  The weather changes faster here than it does in Colorado.

Since we still haven't gone to the pool hall to buy fish and a promised fish delivery never came, Jim decided he would get some fish the old-fashioned way. He went fishing with Mainor, Elkin, and Jody. Remember they start with the basics down here.  First Elkin dug for worms, then they fished for little fish that could be used as bait, and finally they fished for eatin' size.  They don't use a pole; they just hang a line with a hook off the kayak.  Jody was the only one who got a fish -- a guapito (rainbow bass) with a spear gun.  Even though Jim didn't catch a fish, he didn't come home empty handed since Jody insisted that his fish was ours.  I sautéed it with flour, salt, pepper and macadamia nuts.  Very tasty, but this was one bony fish! 

I got a heavenly hour-and-a-half massage from Monica, the multi-talented and helpful restaurant owner.  Ninety minutes was just enough time to fade, ever so slightly, the rose-colored view I have of my current surroundings.  I was surprised to hear about tiny little Arenal's problems with burglaries and drugs.  I now know which store was broken into three nights ago and where the Tico lived who was just sent to prison for ten years for dealing drugs.  While I know this place can't be perfect, compared to terrorists, anthrax, and gangs, it still seems like a very safe slice of paradise (snakes and scorpions aside).

I asked Monica if she buys her vegetables from Daisy, who has still not returned.  Daisy is clearly teaching me a lesson for only buying $4 worth of vegetables from her when I had the chance.  Monica said she quit buying from Daisy because she is unreliable (that I can agree with) and too expensive (that blows my mind).  Monica, my friend forever, gets vegetables delivered from San Jose three times a week and offered to get us whatever we need.  By the time I learn how to shop down here, we'll be ready to go home. I'll start sending emails to folks in Costa Rica about the culture shock (mostly sticker shock) of shopping at King Soopers.   

Ninety minutes was more than enough time to realize what a remarkable family Monica has.  Monica and Willy's triplets (all girls) have always loved animals.  Shortly after they moved here, their house and land were overflowing with animals -- abandoned dogs and cats, neglected or abused horses, wounded birds, and even an orphaned monkey.  The cost of caring for these animals was skyrocketing when Willy became ill two years ago.  Kathryn, Alexandra, and Sabrina, who were eleven at the time, knew they would have to find a way to support these animals on their own.  They are all talented artists.  What began with the triplets offering a small collection of their paintings to customers after dinner has grown to one of the nicest galleries in the area.  The subject matter in their paintings is pure Costa Rica: tropical flowers, birds, volcanoes, colorful frogs, ants, and their trademark ladybugs (they call them "lucky bugs").  In addition to the girls' artwork, they sell colorful pottery, hand-painted silks, and Costa Rican wood products.  I'll bring home a piece of their artwork to remind me of this magical land and its gentle people.

Como siempre (as always),
Mary & Jim

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