Thursday, June 7, 2007

Beans: it's what's for dinner

So, it's been a long, hard few days since June began. Special thanks (again) to Carol, because it would've been incomparably worse without you...Carol, David, Addie, Bud, Tiana...thank you.

Khere's the earth. It's a-chillin. Here is what I have written in my first days here, starting with waking up in the hotel in San Jose.

The birds here start at 4am and they sound just like squeaky shoes—I couldn´t figure out for a while whether it was loud people sambaing in loud shoes in the hallway, or birds. Sammie (who will be my roommate in the hotel) hasn´t shown up yet.

It´s light so early here that I´m worried that my watch lost time…but I doubt it. IT makes sense for the sun to rise early nearer to the equator…right? Not really….because it´s in the high latitudes that you get the midnight sun and so forth. I guess I´ll get dressed and go downstairs for food…

They have a pretty extensive breakfast here, but all the food makes me feel just a bit woozy…not sure whether it´s that I´m still very tired, having not caught up on my sleep, or whether it´s just the different food and the level of grease. But, they do have WONDERFUL watermelon and fresh pineapple, and what tastes like fresh squeezed fruit juice (orange and…maybe mango?) I got locked out of my bathroom, but the guy who fixed it just wiggled a flat-head screwdriver around in the keyhole, so I know it won´t happen again. Then he asked me (in Spanish) whether I spoke Spanish, and I said a little, and he started rattling off at me. I didn´t understand, and it was really sad, because I felt so stupid, but…it´s ok. My brain tried to make it into French. I wonder when that will stop. I kind of hope it doesn't, but I suppose it's bound to.

I ate bagels and hummus for lunch at the OTS office on the campus of Costa Rica University, which is where we went after I sent you that e-mail this morning. The architecture was really cool…they had a little pond under some spiral stairs, and there were cute little tiny poi fish in the pond. There was even a cute lil waterfall. I did not eat the fishies. So far, everyone has been really great about finding me alternatives for meat…they brought out hummus for me, especially.

There is pineapple and papaya and watermelon at pretty much every meal here, and the pineapple is much better than anything I´ve ever had in the US. It´s not acidic at ALL—or at least it doesn´t seem acidic. The watermelon is pretty good, but I haven´t been brave enough to try the papaya yet. I tried some a long time ago and couldn´t stand it. Before lunch at OTS, we had a meeting in a circle, where they told us about Risk Management—it boils down to ¨don´t leave your stuff around to get stolen¨ and ¨don´t be stupid otherwise¨ and ¨no drugs and please don´t drink excessively¨. So, all in all it was ok.

Then we had lunch, and hung around forever and a day. Doug has these really neat poles for catching lizards—they are about 20 feet long when they are extended, but they collapse to about a meter long. So you can take off the cap, and pretend like you´re casting a fishing pole, and all of a sudden, the pole grows. It has a little clear noose on the end for catching lizards, and then you pick them up and bring them down and measure them and stuff. Pretty neat.

When we finally finished waiting for Marcela we went to the market. We walked down a long mall near what Marcela told us was the nicest theatre type place in the city, and then we got to a covered market type thing…which is basically a big barn with a tin roof, and there are about a zillion stalls inside, with people selling everything from medicinal herbs (Javez, a marine biology / geography major from Hawaii) bought a big long (3 feet) pod with some horrible smelling center to fruits, to fish markets, and little mirrors with rubber around the edges. Our assignment was to buy fruits, and I had to buy papaya, camote (a type of sweet potato), chayote (they look like greenish yellow apples crossed with tomatoes), and Yuca, which looks and feels like a waxy, rotten yam. I hope it tastes better than it looks. Marcela had given us each 2000 colones, because this fruit we bought, we´re doing a (haha) lab on it. …. Which is to say, we´re going to eat it day after tomorrow night, and while we´re doing so, we´ll learn about the different parts of plants. I think that´s a quite brilliant and pretty tasty way of doing it.

Also in the market was wonderful, intensely vanilla ice cream. It was so much more refreshing than normal ice cream…it had small crystals of ice all through it, and it a soft serve, only more viscous. It was yellow, and there were little tiny specks of vanilla bean in it. Jeremy shared one with me, but that was ok, because it was kind of easy to get enough of, as good as it was.

After the market, we got into the bus and went back to the hotel, from where we walked to have dinner at this really great, really basic restaurant. We all sat at this wooden picnic table (all 20 of us) and the waiter came out and told us we had one choice for drinks (blackberry juice! Apparently Costa Rica is a major exporter of organic blackberries. Who knew!?), and three choices for dinner: cow meat in tomato sauce, chicken with rice, or fish. Marcela came to my rescue, and so I had some really wonderful black beans, rice, some buttery cauliflower and potato type veggies, and a slice of fried cheese. Except, the cheese had the texture of really firm, really silky tofu, and the flavor was absolutely amazing. Like a cheddar crossed with something kinda smokey, and kinda…animal flavored. And when they fried it, it didn´t melt, it just got this crust. For dessert there were little ounce servings of rice pudding rich with cinnamon and whatever else rice pudding is rich with…cream, probably. Yum. Oh, and dinner was served on boards with handles on one side, and the plate (between the wood and the food) was a square piece of leaf. Whee!

When we got back to the hotel, a few of us went to Wal Mart, which, here, is Hiper Más…and its mascot is a whale. But it really is WalMart. I got some laundry soap, and Sammie and Charlene, the two girls who got here today sans luggage, got some clothes. The reason I bought laundry soap is because to do laundry at Las Cruces, there are two options. The suggested option is to buy laundry service at the price of 8 dollars per laundry bag. Seriously??? My alternative is to do my own damn laundry. By hand, in the sink, every night. That means that I will save money, but honestly. I wouldn´t mind at all paying people to do my laundry, but with the conversion, I end up paying 4120 CRC (Costa Rican Colones) per load. Which is a little absurd…and yes, I really am just that cheap.

I found out that there will be crazy orchids growing wild at Las Cruces, so I´m going to try to get a nice enough photo to give to Addie in a frame….I think she would like that. We also may get to see Howler and Spider monkeys at one of the sites we are going to visit. I really hope so. If we are really, really lucky, we´ll also spot an ocelot and a jaguar. I´m not gonna get my hopes up about that, though. Apparently, it´s really super rare.

So the next day, we drove to Las Cruces, about 300km away. On the way we went up and down some big mountains. There are all these little houses and shacks along the side of the road, some of them seem to be just barely clinging to the mountain. They are made out of all kinds of things, but they are almost all either brightly colored, or worn to look kinda like … stonewashed houses. You know, instead of stonewashed jeans? Some of them are little triangular prisms…very pretty, but I bet they are not very comfortable to live in.

We stopped at the top of a mountain for a pit stop, and Jeremy got some pretty pictures of hummingbirds and stuff…I got a picture of some trees. Turns out that I may be working a little bit with Doug's daughter, though…she's about 16. She seems nice and stuff, and kinda shy—junior in high school, and has been all over the world…seems kinda mainstream, though. We shall see.

We stopped for lunch in Buenas Aires, and I had rice and beans and pineapple. On the drive we saw lots and lots of pineapple plants…they grow close and low to the ground, like a lot of yucca. Did you know that?? For some reason I always assumed they grew on trees. The fields are big, and the ground is red, and the way the fields are set up are with big chunks of the field (maybe 30 feet long and 10 or 15 feet wide) with paths almost as wide as roads in between, so the overall effect from a long way away is like a gray-green crazy quilt (a quilt with no specific pattern, just random shapes and sizes) stitched together with wide red-brown ribbons. Or something.

After lunch, on the way to San Vito (where we bought rubber boots), I saw the butt end of a coati as it ran across the road, causing our second almost-accident of the day. Driving here seems to be considered a contact sport. Or a near-contact sport, anyhow. So, I got to see its long brown tail, and part of its back. At Las Cruces, we got to see more of one, because they have this big old bunch of bananas hanging for the birds, and this coati had climbed up the pole (or into the bunch from the nearby tree) and was stuffing its face…they are very, very cute. I'll get you one.

There is an orchid trail here…I am going to try to get some pictures for Addie. They have a rotting flesh scented orchid vine here, and the flowers are as big as small conch shells, and look really similar, except they're kinda dark pink with big black-red spots and speckles in the inside. They look vaguely pornographic, and very very poisonous…if an open one were sturdy enough to hold water, it could probably hold twice as much as my cupped hands. They also have these long thin pink tails that trail down maybe 12 inches or so.

On the way, we also saw a lot of schoolchildren. I guess the younger kids get out earlier, so that any time after noon, there were a bunch of ninos and ninas walking all over. My brain is littered with so many disconnected, potent images. I really wanted to ask the bus driver to stop so I could take pictures of these things, but we were speeding along.

A young girl in a pink skirt walking under a big backpack towards a pole barn near a house, the only bright thing in the image is the pink of her skirt and the intense, alive jungle green…everything else is drab, comfortable brown, brown-red, and gray.

A boy, maybe Tristan's age, walking towards a small house, again, very little color, but somehow very intense, his black hair still combed from school, wearing his school pants, but swinging his overshirt from his left hand, head turned almost backwards to watch the bus go by, eyes squinting in the tropical sun.

Several children walking, unconcernedly down the road. The oldest (tallest) girl shouts something to the boys (her brothers?), who suddenly scramble, in such hurry that it's almost a caricature, to get out of the way of our bus. The driver does not slow down.

Three men dressed as farm laborers sitting in the middle of a vast, plowed red hill, in a row, watching something in the trees, eating lunch.

Two very young girls with incredibly brown faces watching us very seriously as we go by, unimpressed at our bus.

So it turns out that I am going to be rooming with Jeremy….our room is amazing. It is not very big, but there is a nice porch with an overhang, and we (Frank, Javez, Natasha, Tracy, Leo, and me—they are all our neighbors, because the porches kinda connect, if you do not mind climbing over a railing, which none of us do) saw a few toucans pulling nuts from palm trees.

Then it began to rain, and then it began to pour. There are plants growing out of the tree trunks, and lichens and mosses all over. After dinner (beans and rice again—still good, but the same), we had a meeting about more Risk Management and so forth…

I haven't yet written anything about today, but the basics are that we went on a very long hike and saw a bunch of beautiful forest, then we had 4.5 hours of lectures, and then after dinner we had our plants lab. Very long day, and tomorrow promises to be at least as long.

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