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mvblair
07-11-2008, 12:46 AM
In 1999, I studied Latin American history at the National University of Costa Rica. I was struggling in my classes, so I took a basic dance class to boost my grades. On the day of the final exam (yes, this dance class had a final exam…thank goodness it was pass/fail), my big German partner neglected to come to class. The professor said that if I couldn’t find a partner, I would fail the class. Quickly, I stepped outside the room and asked the first girl I saw to dance with me. That beautiful girl, Rocío, became my wife in 2007. I´m attaching a picture of us from last year, when we went to the Ruins of the Cartago Cathedral.

As a teacher, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Costa Rica for 3 months of the year. This year, I finally decided to write about my feelings for Costa Rica. Consider this thread my cheap attempt to win some 2008 InterBasket.Net award. I really want an award this year. :D

My wife lives in a little pueblo called San Pedro, which is between Santa Barbara and Alajuela for those of you with Google Earth. It´s a delightful, quiet town. I absolutely love it here, despite what my posts might say.

mvblair
07-11-2008, 12:50 AM
Wildlife in Costa Rica is poorly represented in tourist books. I don’t know where those writers get their information, but it is certainly not based on a visit to San Pedro. Wildlife here starts and ends with roosters, a menagerie in between.

Depending on how one counts the start of a day, the rooster is the first thing they hear. At a half hour past midnight. One particular rooster, that of my neighbors, gets a real kick out of cock-a-doodle-doing at this particular hour directly outside my particular window. Somehow, the animal makes his way into a tree just above the cinder-block wall. At 12:30 he starts his call. It’s actually convenient for me because I’m laying on the bed, my glass about to be smashed under my head, a book about to fall from my chest.

Another great nocturnal wildlife feature whose name starts with “cock” that I’ve noticed in Costa Rica includes the cockroach. Admittedly, I was not in San Pedro during my first nighttime meeting with a cockroach. I was 20 blocks from downtown Heredia in a boarding house. A cockroach decided that it wasn’t necessary to ask me for permission and crawled its happy way up my nose while I was asleep. Its antennas must have stabbed my brain, because I woke up and immediately grabbed my nose, smashing the cockroach in the process. Not realizing what was happening, I continued to pinch my nostrils tightly, trying to induce sneezing. No good. Eventually, my new friend’s innards dribbled onto my upper lip.

At four thirty or five, the rest of the roosters begin to crow. This is a much more reasonable time than midnight, even though I’m still sleepy. Since the houses are unreasonably close together according to my Westernized notion of private space, I can hear my neighbors get up when the rooster crows. My adult neighbors, that is. Children are woken up to the universal entreaties of their mothers yelling “Jose, get up! You’ll be late for school!” I commiserate with Jose as I peer at him from my window.

By seven o’clock, most Costa Rican men are off to work, leaving their wives or daughters to take care of the house (more on crime later). This is when the dogs make their way into the streets, staying until midnight when the roosters take over.

Essentially, there are two types of Costa Rican dogs: 1) starving and mean sons-of-bitches, and 2) starving and scared sons-of-bitches. The mean dogs fight the scared ones and occasionally chase after children. I’ve never actually seen a mean dog attack a person, but I’ve seen them come pretty close. Such encounters almost always end with the person throwing a rock at the dog. Most of the time, simply bending over to pick up a rock is enough to cause the scared dogs to scamper off. At this point in my adventures in San Pedro, I’ve only seen one dog kill another dog. Well, the dog who lost the fight was so badly maimed that a Nicaraguan neighbor took a machete to him.

Around noon each day, the hens leave their cages, which seem to be a quintessential in a San Pedreno’s house. The hens, often with chicks scuttling behind, are undoubtedly cute. The hen is the only Costa Rican bird that is afraid of humans (mind you, the only other one I’ve had contact with is the pigeon). If I walk within ten feet a hen, the hen and her chicks will squawk and cluck their way to the other side of the street amidst a great fluttering of wings and cartoon-like feathers flying into the air.

Cows and horses are usually taken to different pastures around three o’clock. None of the cows and horses that live in San Pedro proper are commercial enterprises. They’re more like 500 pound pets that are neither milked nor eaten nor enjoyed. Horses are ridden, but mostly just to get the horse exercise or for the rider to show off rather than for any practical reason. In San Pedro, there are dozens of small pastures, all about the size of a suburban Dayton plot. Usually, those empty pastures contain one or two huge heaps of trash, perhaps discarded construction materials, perhaps wood too soft to burn. Anyone who takes their horse or cow to a pasture undoubtedly has some odd familial connection with the owner of the land, probably a third cousin, twice removed through marriage.

When the sun begins to fall at six o’clock, the next wild organism to take over is the mosquito. Because of San Pedro’s lovely open sewers that run parallel to all streets, mosquitoes are very prevalent. The standing water causes such amorousness amongst the skinny-legged insects that they can hardly contain themselves, leading to astronomical numbers of youngens. The youngest of mosquitoes still have strong anesthetics in their mouths, allowing them to enter a person; he or she none the wiser. The beauty of Costa Rica’s mosquitoes lies in their variety. Mosquitoes here come in a multitude of shapes and colors.

After the mosquitoes are drunk on plasma, the rest of the insect zoo takes residence of the airwaves. Beetles, grasshoppers, and horseflies take their nightly constitutionals, buzzing around any artificial source of light that has yet to be cut after the rolling blackouts. Most of them are quite sporting, providing each San Pedreno with the opportunity to practice his or her forehand tennis swing.

Thus, the cycle of Costa Rican wildlife returns full circle to the midnight rooster, singing his song to all who will listen, willingly or otherwise.

Saskibaloia
07-11-2008, 02:01 AM
Mate, you've scored big time!!! ... you're a luckly bloke (Australian for "guy") to have a beautiful soul mate ;) ... I hope I can find my soul mate in Latin America :)

J-Mart
07-11-2008, 03:19 AM
and I thought u looked nerd n ur avatar :rolleyes:

Juan Carlos Nadal
07-11-2008, 01:54 PM
That's a great thread Matt. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing it with us. My comments are:

1) You lucky bastard
2) What is it with American dudes and saggy old-fashioned jeans and (white) trainers? I could have guessed you are American even if you had a sickle and a hammer tattooed on your forehead.
3) My third comment is too inappropriate so if you wanna find out PM me.
4) You lucky bastard (this time for being a teacher and having all summers off)
5) You gonna get my vote at the end of the year unless someone comes up with a thread with all the new EL jerseys with photos.

mvblair
07-12-2008, 08:29 PM
and I thought u looked nerd n ur avatar :rolleyes: Yeah, I know. :D


1) You lucky bastard Yeah, I know. :D

2) What is it with American dudes and saggy old-fashioned jeans and (white) trainers? I could have guessed you are American even if you had a sickle and a hammer tattooed on your forehead. Well, I was going to where my cowboy boots, but...

3) My third comment is too inappropriate so if you wanna find out PM me. No thanks. :D

4) You lucky bastard (this time for being a teacher and having all summers off) All teachers complain about not getting paid enough, but we don´t work for a fourth of the year. It´s a good deal. I can´t complain.

Mate, you've scored big time!!! ... you're a luckly bloke (Australian for "guy") to have a beautiful soul mate ... I hope I can find my soul mate in Latin America Thanks, man. Chicks are beautiful in every country, aren´t they? (Please, nobody e-mail my wife that I wrote that).

mvblair
07-12-2008, 08:36 PM
While there are many ways for Costa Ricans to get from point A to point B, the most common is undoubtedly the bus. There are many types of buses in Costa Rica, most assigned to fixed routes that travel between cities, creating an impressive network of transfers and transportation lines. That is, it creates an impressive network of transfers and transportation lines if the traveler knows where the bus stops and bus lines are.

I know two bus lines. The one I use most often is the Alajuela-Santa Barbara line which connects Santa Barbara, a relatively small town with a Division II soccer team, and Alajuela, the second biggest city in Costa Rica. It’s the only line that goes through sleepy San Pedro, where my wife’s family lives. This line costs about 35 cents to ride the full way. As with every bus line, there are no set bus stops. One learns only by custom and experience where the stops are. This makes taking an unknown bus risky. (Attached is a picture of what may or may not be a bus stop in San Pedro).

If I had a colon for every time I had problems on a Costa Rican bus, I’d have about 30 colones…

The first time I was on a Costa Rican bus, I knocked my head on the “luggage rack,” which was added above the seats of a converted school bus. It’s not that I’m that tall. I’m about six feet even. It’s that Costa Ricans have the creative capacity to cram as much as they can into small spaces (hence the added luggage rack). Because the bus wasn’t full at that time, I drew the laughter of the few riders. I laughed too, trying to enjoy the moment. When I got off the bus, I felt my head. A cartoonish knot was developing.

In Alajuela, there is a terminal that takes riders to San Jose, the capital. This terminal is a complete mess by my anal retentive standards. At any given time there are about 4 buses with signs in their windows that read “San Jose/Alajuela.” I have no idea how people know which bus is leaving first, so I just get in a random line and hope for the best. It’s usually successful. Also in the terminal are men and women hoisting to the bus windows massive boxes of fruits, bottles of water, and cheap bags of chips. Occasionally, there a police officer walks by staring at some young girls butt. Because the Alajuela-San Jose terminal is a public building in the pure middle of downtown Alajuela, there is a huge mix of citizenry: professionals in ties, farmers, families, legless beggars, and public sector workers. Outside the bus terminal is often a group of colorful, scantily-clad, large-busted, large-stomached woman. I’ve been told that prostitutes frequent that area, so I’ve made my guess as to their occupation.

On any given bus, there is an expectation that men will give up their seats to women when the bus is full. This comes from the inbred machismo culture that is suffering a painful, slow death. At least I’m told that. Remember, I’m just some random Yankee with little knowledge of my cultural surroundings beyond what neighbors and arbitrary bus riders tell me. So, when the bus fills up and old men start rubbing their bellies in my face, I need to stand, tap a woman’s shoulder, and point her to my empty seat. Nothing wrong with that. Expect that I’m the only person who ever does it. I guess I’m the last vestige of machismo in this country. Damned if women get the right to vote.

I’d like to impart two stories about urinary problems and buses.

The first takes place on a bus somewhere outside of San Jose in 1999. I had no idea where I was, having been in the country only two months. The bus was crowded, but there were still some empty seats. The road, like all in Costa Rica, was bumpy and rough. This exasperated my rapidly developing urge to urinate. Suddenly, the urge grew exponentially (make a mental graph with elapsed time on the X axis and urge to urinate on the Y). I’ve got absolutely no idea why that happens to me sometimes, but it does. I ran to the bus driver and pleaded with him to stop the bus. At first, I think I just said something like “friend, you’ve got to stop this bus! Please, friend, the bus must stop.” The driver probably thought I was going to follow with something like “there’s a bomb connected to the speedometer!” He looked at me dismayed, and then pulled the bus over at the next unmarked stop. I jumped off, pushing my way against the flow of traffic onto the bus, and ran down the street. I really had to go. I turned a corner, saw a public park and ran to the closest tree I can find. (I don’t feel bad about public urination in Costa Rica. Actually, I like it. It’s convenient and common. After I came back to the US in 2007, I was so accustomed to public urination that instead of using the bathroom inside the house before a shopping trip, I just walked into the backyard and whipped it out. Weird, but true). I spent a good five minutes trying to ask people where the bus stop was.

My other tale of small intestinal discomfort comes in the Alajuela bus terminal. I had to go once again (I should look into these FloMax commercials that I see on TV). I was about to step into one of the grimiest public restrooms in the hemisphere when a man grabbed my arm. “Where are you going? 50 colones,” he said. Thinking this guy was trying to extort me, I turned to my wife. It’s common practice that people charge entry into public restrooms, so I acquiesced, fishing a few coins from my pocket. “50 colones? To piss?” I said, using the rural colloquialism for urinate as I handed him the money. “You’re a thief.” He grabbed his gut laughing, which I enjoyed. My wife tells this story to everyone she introduces me to. I feel pretty good when she tells the story, because it’s impressive that I know the word “mear” for “piss.”

My brother Tom visited in 2007 just before my wedding. After we jumped into a river in our gym shoes, we traipsed out to Sarchí, a beautiful tourist town with plenty of delightful craft shops. Unfortunately, we had no idea how to get back. I asked around and later surmised that the bus we wanted would stop in front of a corner store in about an hour. We bid our time in a park and eventually got into line for the bus. The bus was crowded something terrible. Somehow, the two of us got separated. Honestly, I was a little scared. If Tom somehow got off the bus, I’m sure he would’ve been OK, but our whole evening would’ve been ruined. The more and more people crammed onto the bus, the further and further we were separated. We were both keeping an eye on each other, me looking for his bright red hair, and him looking for my blonde hair for longer than an hour. I ended up in the back of the bus, Tom all the way up front. One of us was going to pay a ransom to Nicaraguan rebels that night. The bus stopped, and people started getting off. “We’re back in Alajuela. Thank goodness,” I thought. Tom and I were reunited. I asked the driver just to make sure. “Alajuela?” he said in question form. “That’s another hour.” Then the bus driver got off the bus. Tom and I stared at each other. “Easy,” a fellow rider said. “We’re close to Alajuela.” The driver got back on with a pint of Big Cola.

My favorite bus story is a short one. I was on a bus on a highway, window open, feeling pretty smug about something or other. Up comes a massive diesel truck, spewing brown smoke into the air. It passed just inches from my window. I could feel the hot smog on my face. The guy next to me joked “you’re going to get cooked.” I looked at him, smiling, but couldn’t see him. I wiped the brown dust off my glasses.

Saskibaloia
07-14-2008, 02:29 AM
I've been looking at the photos that you've been posting up and I can definitely see that you're in the REAL Latin America.

The reason why I say this is because I've lived in Latin America (Uruguay) but Uruguay as well as Argentina - especially Buenos Aires, are more like a relocated Barcelona or Madrid in Latin America. In addition, the weather in Uruguay and Argentina has the temperate climate and not the exotic Central American weather that you've got in Costa Rica.

In addition, Central America there's in awesome mix of Mestizos (Native and European), Mulattos (Black and European), European descendants, Negros, Indios etc. However, in Uruguay it's totally different because more than 90% of Uruguayans are 100% European descent (approx 60% from Spain, 30% from Italy, 10% from either France, Germany or Poland sometimes from the former Yugoslavia), which is such a high percentage. This explains why I was shocked upon my arrival in the school that I was teaching to find that 1/3 of my year 4 class were blond haired or blue eyed.

Then you only have a very small group of mulattos (mix of black and white) who unfortunately only live in the poor areas of the capital. Thus it was very unusual for the Uruguayans to see me (a "Chino - Morochito": Brown Asian) in a middle class suburb.

mvblair
07-16-2008, 09:35 PM
I've been looking at the photos that you've been posting up and I can definitely see that you're in the REAL Latin America. Thanks for reading, Saski! I appreciate it, buddy. You need to write something about Uruguay, or at least give us some photos, man.

The reason why I say this is because I've lived in Latin America (Uruguay) but Uruguay as well as Argentina - especially Buenos Aires, are more like a relocated Barcelona or Madrid in Latin America. In addition, the weather in Uruguay and Argentina has the temperate climate and not the exotic Central American weather that you've got in Costa Rica. Big cities are always interesting. There is always such a huge mix of people. Unfortunately, in Latin America, as you suggest, that mix of people is usually divided among the recent immigrant families and the "rich bloods" against the poorer, darker Mestizos. There is certainly a big mix here in Costa Rica´s Central Valley. Where in Uruguay are you?

In addition, Central America there's in awesome mix of Mestizos (Native and European), Mulattos (Black and European), European descendants, Negros, Indios etc. However, in Uruguay it's totally different because more than 90% of Uruguayans are 100% European descent (approx 60% from Spain, 30% from Italy, 10% from either France, Germany or Poland sometimes from the former Yugoslavia), which is such a high percentage. This explains why I was shocked upon my arrival in the school that I was teaching to find that 1/3 of my year 4 class were blond haired or blue eyed. The Herrmans, Ginobilis, and Montecchias of Argentina sound about the same as Uruguay. Is that true?

Then you only have a very small group of mulattos (mix of black and white) who unfortunately only live in the poor areas of the capital. Thus it was very unusual for the Uruguayans to see me (a "Chino - Morochito": Brown Asian) in a middle class suburb. I´ll be square with you, man. I hate to say this, but there is a lot of racism in Costa Rica. A lot of whites (recent European immigrants) look down on Chinos and morenos (and especially negros). Is that true in Uruguay? Sometimes, and this is even worse to say, the racism is comical. My stepmother is a housecleaner for an ex-congressman´s widow. The ex-congressman´s widow once said "it´s just, it´s just that I hate it when a black sits next to me on the bus! It´s not that I´m racist, I just don´t like it." She shuddered when she said that. I´m not kidding. Another woman who is a friend of a friend of my wife (or something like that), won´t eat black beans because she says they´ll turn her skin black. Granted, the woman who said that is gossiped about a lot, but it´s still CRAZY.

mvblair
07-16-2008, 09:43 PM
My first week here, I developed my usual itch to make a fool of myself on the basketball court. I called my good friend Elias. In 2007, I played on his basketball team. I don’t have enough time to play on a team this year, so I was just looking for a pick-up game. Elias said he would pick me up at 9:30 Sunday morning in front of the Santa Barbara Parochial.

Expectedly, he showed up at 9:50. Costa Ricans have a nasty penchant for showing up late. It’s frustrating for me as a punctual person. The truth is that most Costa Ricans aren’t late for events; however, when they are late, they blame it on the local cultural phenomenon of Tico Time. Fine with me. I spent the time in front of the church watching mute man in the park salute his friends on their way to Mass.

I jumped into Elias’s beat up Honda Civic, the dull gray metal chasis shining without the paint. We small talked about basketball. I told him about my team at the YMCA and he told me about the Division II team he’s coaching and his girl’s teams. He seems to enjoy coaching girls more because they’re more apt to listen. He hasn’t met my wife.

The trip from Santa Barbara to Heredia is just fifteen minutes by car (forty five minutes by bus). The road winds through a few pueblos. It’s hard to tell where one pueblo begins or ends, because much of the Central Valley is a sprawling, vibrant metropolitan area. The pueblos are defined by the churches and connected plazas of each town. Where the pueblo limits are is just as difficult as telling where one Dayton suburb begins and the other ends, only between Santa Barbara and Heredia, the road is lined with buildings, corner stores, bakers, and the occasional slum. My favorite pueblo on the way to Heredia is La Maquina – The Machine. I only know it because I pass it on the bus. I’ve never stopped there. From what I gather, it’s named after an old coffee production facility.

According to my delicate Yankee standards, Elias is a lousy driver. By Costa Rican standards, he’s pretty good. My chauffer squeezed all the excitement he could out of the quarter hour to the basketball courts. He dodged cars, people, a horse, and buses. He took the turns at breakneck speeds, causing me great anxiety that he would land the car into an open sewer on the side of the road. Along with his fellow motorists, he took great pleasure in honking his way over potholes and past pedestrians.

The park where the hoops are is on the top of a hill. It’s a delightful park in the style of a plaza. There are lovely benches, a miniature soccer field, a half dozen oak trees and the court. The hoops are questionably at ten feet. One is higher than the other. The court’s paint is practically all washed away. At the center is what appears to be a Chicago Bulls insignia, probably 10 years old when Costa Ricans still thought Michael Jordan was in the NBA. Predictably, the nets were absent and the backboards solid, unforgiving corrugated metal; a sin to anyone who’s ever tried to hit a bank shot.

I took my ball to the court and immediately, eight or nine fellows popped out from around the corner, their sleeveless shirts implying their desire to play. I knew one of the guys and we made a little small talk while warming up. At the YMCA or any university’s pick-up game in the US, warm-ups are disorganized. A player shoots from where he or she wants; if he or she makes it, he or she gets the ball again. In Costa Rica, it doesn’t matter whether a player makes his or her shot, making it hard to get a feel for the court, the ball, and his or her body.

Quickly, I was assigned to a team with Elias, a guy named Mario, and another fellow. Four-on-four, half-court. This is perhaps the worst way to play a pick-up game. The court gets terribly crowded. If a game is three-on-three, half court, the playing area remains clear, allowing for players to move smoothly around the basket’s radius. Four-on-four means that a couple of guys knock off, stay in one spot, and generally destroy the feel of the game. Thus, at all times, on both sides of the court, there are two games going. It allows sixteen people to play at once, instead of a normal full-court ten man game, but it’s much sloppier.

Division I Costa Rican basketball is pretty good. Many of the starters have played at US junior colleges and have a great passion for the game. There is a big drop-off in talent after that. Someone on the bench, like me last year, has either a good feel for the game but no athleticism, or a lot of athleticism but thinks they’re playing a game of billiards. Some of the guys in the pick-up games played Division I, but mostly came off the bench. Thus, the pick-up games today where terrible.

In the first game, we played against the other American there, a fellow who teaches English in Heredia. He’s a great guy who dominated his team. In conversation, he seemed pretty smart, too. We squeeked out a victory, but no thanks to our teamwork. The game was sloppy. No ball movement, no communication, and no good shooting. Pick-up games in Costa Rica are played to seven.

I should rephrase “no communication” and write “no reasonable communication.” Costa Rican ball players are great at cursing and insulting and calling ridiculously light fouls. I’m going to sound like a lousy high school coach, but communication, specifically, the exchange of ideas through vocalizations, is the key to good basketball. My Spanish isn’t bad. I’m more or less fluent and can get through my stay without bringing my University of Chicago English/Spanish Dictionary. The problem is that these fellows have a vocabulary all of their own. It’s the nature of linguistics when you put a few guys in a circle and throw a ball in the middle that they develop their own bizarre lexicon. “What a faggot,” “son of a bitch,” and “mother fucker foul” are the three most common Spanish axioms on a Costa Rican court. Less common, heard only once each minute, is “that’s not a foul, you faggot.”

Now, I’m not saying I’m a superstar on that or any other court. I’m not. But I know the difference between good amateur play and shoddy amateur play. The play in Heredia was clearly shoddy. If someone drove to the basket, they were looking for a foul rather than a basket. If someone passed the ball (God willing), it was invariably off target, sent bouncing into the concrete benches and then down the hill, where, twice, it stroke Elias’s Honda Civic, starting the alarm. If someone rebounded the ball, they went over another person’s back. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

All of this no doubt causes the reader to think I had a bad time playing. The truth is that I had a blast. It’s not everyday that a blonde Yankee gets a chance to play ball in Heredia. They’re fun guys. They make jokes, are reasonably athletic, and are more than polite with their valedictions and well wishes. They’re good fellows, all of them.

Thus, sweaty, convulsing, uncoordinated bodies continued their mejengas, pick-up games. We played until past noon, when rain clouds rolled across the sky. The first drops of water sent most of the ball players scurrying home. Elias, Mario, a few others, and I laid in the long grass to cool off our hot chests and tired legs. When the rain began to staccato on the court, we piled into the car again. We stopped at a corner store on the way back to Santa Barbara and Mario bought a carton of orange juice for me. I told them about the new words I picked up and joked about the players’ poor on-court manners.

They left me in front of the church, promising to pick me up next Sunday at 9:30. I’ll expect them at 9:50. Truthfully, I’d like to find another couple of games between now and then.



The attached picture is not the court in Heredia, but the court in Barva where there is another pick-up game on Sundays. Elias is the bald guy on the other side of the court, shirtless, talking to the bike-rider.

stuart
07-16-2008, 10:04 PM
How'd I miss this thread? I guess it could be that I am not alrways here? :) Anyways, well-written and very descriptive posts, Matt, thanks for sharing it with us.

And JCN, not all Americans wear saggy jeans and white tennies... in fact I hate wearing white trainers! You'll have to forgive Matt, he's a midwestern hippie-interllectual.

stuart

mvblair
07-16-2008, 10:19 PM
How'd I miss this thread? I guess it could be that I am not alrways here? :) Anyways, well-written and very descriptive posts, Matt, thanks for sharing it with us. Thanks, buddy.

You'll have to forgive Matt, he's a midwestern hippie-interllectual. It´s better than being a West Coast transplant, you wannabee.

And for the record, I don´t think my pants are sagging. :D

Juan Carlos Nadal
07-16-2008, 10:31 PM
How'd I miss this thread? I guess it could be that I am not alrways here? :) Anyways, well-written and very descriptive posts, Matt, thanks for sharing it with us.

And JCN, not all Americans wear saggy jeans and white tennies... in fact I hate wearing white trainers! You'll have to forgive Matt, he's a midwestern hippie-interllectual.

stuart


Well, I do live in the Midwest, and more specifically in an area with a population of ~90% nerds so I see this kind of dress code all day. And whenever I leave my neighborhood to go to downtown Chicago the place seems to be taken over by "foreigners" (see people from Indiana) which also seem to dress in the same way. So OK I take this back, not all Americans wear saggy jeans with white trainers, but all the Americans that do so seem to follow me around. I will never forget a talk I attended a couple of years back at a conference in DC where the speaker (a well known American neuroscientist) was wearing a tuxedo with white Mizuno trainers :D

mvblair
07-18-2008, 12:30 AM
Well, I do live in the Midwest, and more specifically in an area with a population of ~90% nerds so I see this kind of dress code all day. And whenever I leave my neighborhood to go to downtown Chicago the place seems to be taken over by "foreigners" (see people from Indiana) which also seem to dress in the same way. So OK I take this back, not all Americans wear saggy jeans with white trainers, but all the Americans that do so seem to follow me around. I will never forget a talk I attended a couple of years back at a conference in DC where the speaker (a well known American neuroscientist) was wearing a tuxedo with white Mizuno trainers :D My shoes are really more of a grey with a white trim, though...:o

mvblair
07-18-2008, 10:42 PM
Maybe I’ve complained a lot about Costa Rica, but the truth is that I really love this place. There are plenty of things to enjoy even outside of the great tourist attractions, of which I should take more advantage. Unfortunately for my tourist side, I’m mostly a homebody. The truth is that I prefer staying around San Pedro, loafing on the porch with a book, playing dominos, and, especially, going to the soda.

Sodas are small restaurants that, when open for lunch, serve a special plate (more later), and fast food (cooked slowly apparently) for dinner. They are loosely regulated with the owners getting a health certificate to open, but after that the small restaurants are left to their own devices. Sodas have a kitchen capable of cooking one or two meals at a time and a staff of two or three people. They might have 10 tables although I’ve been in some with no tables. They are open to the fresh air, perhaps enclosed by an iron bar fence and a tin roof. Most sodas don’t have usable restrooms, although a trough for men is usually around back.

My neighbor Sonia runs the Taquería Andrea in San Pedro. It’s on the west side of the church, next to an old dance hall, El Tipico Copey. Sonia runs the soda mostly with her son, Keilor, who is hoping to rise through the ranks of the Costa Rican soccer leagues. About 25-years-old, Keilor is just two steps away from the big show. Sonia has another regular employee as well.

Her soda is exactly as described as above: open air, tin roof, small kitchen, men’s trough (100 colones unless you buy something) and a window to order. The kitchen has lovely orange walls. Last year, she paid a painter to paint pictures of food on the wall along with the prices. The prices seem to have changed considerably, so I think Sonia is quite familiar with the old “bait and switch.” Sodas are perfect studies in poorly-checked capitalism.

I go to the soda probably three times a week, always in the evening. My favorite order is the “special hamburger with Sonia’s homemade patty,” although usually I’ll just sip a Diet Coke for an hour before walking home in the rain. Sonia also serves raviolis, which are not soft pastas but rather rolled-up fried tacos, hot sandwiches, a cold, sour fish soup called ceviche, Super Tacos, and fried chicken when available. She’s also sells Cokes in refrigerator she won in a contest for the local Pepsi distributor and canned juices.

Sonia’s French fries are sold in the typical Costa Rican fashion: on a plate with two toothpicks sticking up and swimming in mayonnaise and ketchup. I honestly don’t know how Costa Ricans can eat that much ketchup. They’re practically licking it off the French fries. It’s disgusting to me, so I ask for just a little on the side. Keilor, her son, thinks I’m crazy for not wanting more. “No, Matt, we don’t charge for ketchup,” he always jokes.

Sonia sells plenty of everything and there are always a few customers from five o’clock in the afternoon until nine, later on weekends. She’s also open at lunchtime, when a group of farmers and a group of factory workers always go to the soda for their casados. Casados translates to “married couple.” It’s a universal dish in this country: a lesser mountain of rice, a big spoonful of black beans, a cole slaw-like salad, a pickled vegetable or two, fried plantains, and the customer’s choice of pork chop, fried chicken, chicken in sauce, fish, or small beef steak. Casados are great. They also come with a “natural juice,” always squeezed fresh the morning of sale. In the big towns, casados sell for 2,000 colones, about four dollars. Granted, in town the sodas have a better selection of meat to choose and are a little clean, but Sonia and all the other small town sodas sell them for about two dollars (about a buck seventy five with the price of the dollar right now). They are always great bargains. They’ve got plenty of rice and beans to fill me up and just enough meat to make me feel like I’m not just gorging on good carbs.

I don’t have many gripes with the sodas here. Most of them seem reasonably clean in the kitchens even if the tables are sticky and there are flies constantly pestering me. For the prices Sonia charges, I’m willing to sacrifice a little comfort. Still, I always get a little prickly when Sonia’s dog sleeps in the door that connects the kitchen to the sitting area. I got extra prickly when her dog was, let’s say, making whoopee with another dog near the order window. Oh well. It’s still a cute dog.

In 2007, when the Central American Free Trade Agreement (Tratado de Libre Comercio in Spanish) was up for a popular referendum, I saw an older fellow with an anti-TLC pin on his farmer’s hat. Since I was just sitting with my Diet Coke, I struck up a conversation with him and his forty-year-old daughter. It turned out this guy lived in New York City for twenty years, spoke good English, and was on the Civic Committee in Santa Barbara, the big town a bus ride or a really long walk from San Pedro. We had a good conversation and he invited me to one of their meetings. I ended up making some anti-TLC flyers for them (I saw one of my flyers on a Sunday morning while going to a basketball game!).

Last night, when Rocio and I were in the soda, I struck up another conversation (people must get tired of me) with a fellow who was out of the house because his kids were really rambunctious. He turned out to be a somewhat distant relative of Rocio’s. That happens all the time in San Pedro where the people are either a Sanchez, Alfaro, or Soto.

Once, a guy sauntered up to my table (once again, I was there for a few hours sipping Diet Cokes) and showed me an ancient Roman coin. He proceeded to show me a big collection of old coins, including some that were pre-Civil War American coins. He seemed like a pretty bright guy and we had a good conversation that evening.

What I like most about the soda is that Sonia knows almost everybody by name. I’m sure she’s never thought about her business plan, because she just doesn’t need to. As with all sodas, this is the basic plan: get lots of repeat customers and serve food at cheap prices. Works for me.

The only time when Sonia struggles with customers is the week and half San Pedro Festival. This festival, which celebrates the pueblo’s patron saint, is very similar to Catholic festivals in Ohio. There are five or six rides, bumper cars, bingo, games of skill and cotton candy. There are also karaoke and dancing contests, bands at night, and school presentations. The biggest difference between the festivals in Dayton and the San Pedro Festival is that almost every night, the town plaza is packed with people. Everybody, myself included, moves around like packed sardines. This is when Sonia does half of her yearly business. She hires 12 people for the festival, all working at the same time. The ten tables in the soda are cramped, extra stools are brought in, and there are still people taking their hamburgers and raviolis to the street curb.

Sonia’s soda, like most in Costa Rica I’m sure, is a great time. It’s easy to just sit and watch the sparse pedestrian traffic or the church or the customers. Plenty of other patrons are just like me. They go to the soda to pass a little time or find a conversation. I’d rather have dinner here than at Red Lobster, just because of the great atmosphere. It sounds trite, but it’s true.

Saskibaloia
07-22-2008, 02:16 AM
Thanks for reading, Saski! I appreciate it, buddy.

It’s all good mate! I’m a Latin American sociology, international relations & geography fanatic.


You need to write something about Uruguay, or at least give us some photos, man.

Yeah you’re right, I should. I actually have a written diary of my Uruguayan travels, it’s called “The Uruguayan Diaries”. I was inspired by the film “The Motorcycle Diaries” before I left for Uruguay hence, the name.




Where in Uruguay are you?

I left Uruguay back in Dec 07 because of a couple of reasons:
1. The “World Youth Day” was in Australia and I wanted to go.
2. I was not yet a qualified English teacher and I needed to do a TESL course (I could have done it in Uruguay but I don’t think it would have been recognised in other countries except in Argentina and some Latin American countries.
3. The average salary of an English teacher there is approximately US $7,000 – $10,000, which is approximately (converting the purchasing power) US$35,000 for an Australian teacher (here in Australia, Australian teachers average US$55,000). Thus, if I do decide to become an English teacher overseas practically speaking I would probably look towards Argentina, Chile or Spain (I only want to teach in a Spanish speaking country).



The Herrmans, Ginobilis, and Montecchias of Argentina sound about the same as Uruguay. Is that true?


Definitely, a lot of my students had non Spanish names (majority of which were Italian since 30% of Uruguayans are of Italian descent – mainly from the southern party of Italy) such as Quagliotti or even German descent (e.g. Bauer).



I´ll be square with you, man. I hate to say this, but there is a lot of racism in Costa Rica. A lot of whites (recent European immigrants) look down on Chinos and morenos (and especially negros). Is that true in Uruguay?


It also happens in Uruguay that is why I did get the shock of my life when the Uruguayans would make generalist type comments about Africans or Asians.

To be honest that is why I always said to the Uruguayans that I’m Australian, even though my blood is 100% PURE Filipino because for a Uruguayan they do not know the Philippines only that it is in Asia and close to China thus Filipinos are the same as Chinese (however, the truth is that Filipinos are probably more closer to Latinos – in particular Mexico – because Mexico was actually governing the Philippines and not Spain until Mexico became independent from Spain, which is why anything or that reads Spanish is actually Mexican. One perfect example is a Christian song that is always sung in the Philippines though it is in Spanish its origins are from Mexico).

In terms of identity, it is kind of hard for someone in my shoes because though my blood is 100% PURE Filipino and I was born in the Philippines, I’ve lived in the Land Down Under since I was 2 years old.

As a result, I call myself an “Ethnic Australian” because for the Filipinos in the Philippines I’m Australian and to the Australian I’m Filipino. I'm in between the two worlds.





Sometimes, and this is even worse to say, the racism is comical. My stepmother is a housecleaner for an ex-congressman´s widow. The ex-congressman´s widow once said "it´s just, it´s just that I hate it when a black sits next to me on the bus! It´s not that I´m racist, I just don´t like it." She shuddered when she said that. I´m not kidding. Another woman who is a friend of a friend of my wife (or something like that), won´t eat black beans because she says they´ll turn her skin black. Granted, the woman who said that is gossiped about a lot, but it´s still CRAZY.


That is CRAZY. I’m just shocked.

Thank God I live in a city like Sydney where it is multicultural and due to the exposure to other cultures and people there is not that level of racism and that the majority of Sydneysiders always judge you by who you are and not what you are.

It is very similar in Uruguay because though a Uruguayan will say that they accept all people whether you are white or black or Asian, it is not always the case. For example one of the Uruguayans illustrated to me the view ordinary Uruguayans have of non-white or non-European people. He said “Ask a Uruguayan father the question: would they like their daughter to marry a black person like in Brazil? And you can definitely be sure that the father's response would definitely be NO”. In addition, another Uruguayan friend argued against me after I said "all Uruguayans accept foreigners with open arms". My Uruguayan friend refuted with an example of afriend who was born in Uruguay but both of his parents were from Korea. When he walks the streets of Uruguay there is that distant feeling that the other Uruguayans have towards him. This is how I also felt when I would walk the streets since I do look like a mix of Peru and China.

However, the good thing about Uruguayans is that once they meet you they are very hospitable and warm especially if you try very hard to speak Spanish (their version of course) and try to immerse yourself into the Uruguayan culture (which is a common attitude in all countries, I suppose).

mvblair
07-24-2008, 11:19 PM
Yeah you’re right, I should. I actually have a written diary of my Uruguayan travels, it’s called “The Uruguayan Diaries”. I was inspired by the film “The Motorcycle Diaries” before I left for Uruguay hence, the name. Is it digital? If so, you should post it. That or clean it up and try to get it published somewhere. :cool: People love memoirs and that kind of stuff. I do, at least.

Thus, if I do decide to become an English teacher overseas practically speaking I would probably look towards Argentina, Chile or Spain (I only want to teach in a Spanish speaking country). North Korea is an option too. Well, not a Spanish speaking country, but great for teaching overseas. I´m in the middle of a memoir by the first Englishman to head there and teach English.

It also happens in Uruguay that is why I did get the shock of my life when the Uruguayans would make generalist type comments about Africans or Asians. So, I hate to pry, but what kind of things would they say? I mean, were they kind of innocent comments about races or nationalities, or were they mean-spirited?

To be honest that is why I always said to the Uruguayans that I’m Australian, even though my blood is 100% PURE Filipino because for a Uruguayan they do not know the Philippines only that it is in Asia and close to China thus Filipinos are the same as Chinese (however, the truth is that Filipinos are probably more closer to Latinos – in particular Mexico – because Mexico was actually governing the Philippines and not Spain until Mexico became independent from Spain, which is why anything or that reads Spanish is actually Mexican. One perfect example is a Christian song that is always sung in the Philippines though it is in Spanish its origins are from Mexico).

In terms of identity, it is kind of hard for someone in my shoes because though my blood is 100% PURE Filipino and I was born in the Philippines, I’ve lived in the Land Down Under since I was 2 years old.

As a result, I call myself an “Ethnic Australian” because for the Filipinos in the Philippines I’m Australian and to the Australian I’m Filipino. I'm in between the two worlds. OK, so, I can understand why Uruguayans might be confused by your ethnicity and/or identity. I mean, we as people have this natural inclination to say "that guy is Black" or "that guy is Lebanese." It´s not a good habit because it pidgeon-holes people and their expectations.

It is very similar in Uruguay because though a Uruguayan will say that they accept all people whether you are white or black or Asian, it is not always the case. For example one of the Uruguayans illustrated to me the view ordinary Uruguayans have of non-white or non-European people. He said “Ask a Uruguayan father the question: would they like their daughter to marry a black person like in Brazil? And you can definitely be sure that the father's response would definitely be NO”. In addition, another Uruguayan friend argued against me after I said "all Uruguayans accept foreigners with open arms". My Uruguayan friend refuted with an example of afriend who was born in Uruguay but both of his parents were from Korea. When he walks the streets of Uruguay there is that distant feeling that the other Uruguayans have towards him. This is how I also felt when I would walk the streets since I do look like a mix of Peru and China. OK, I would say there is some racism there, intentional or unintentional. Yes, I´m sure Uruguayans, like Costa Ricans, embrace people from different cultures, but there is often that "distant feeling" as you said, Saski. I buy that, especially if you're in a smaller town.

However, the good thing about Uruguayans is that once they meet you they are very hospitable and warm especially if you try very hard to speak Spanish (their version of course) and try to immerse yourself into the Uruguayan culture (which is a common attitude in all countries, I suppose). Absolutely! That´s the prevailing attitude in Costa Rica as well.

mvblair
07-24-2008, 11:28 PM
Costa Rica developed into a somewhat modern country thanks in some part due to their policy of promoting ecological tourism, which brought in dollars from abroad. The people here rightly acknowledge their standing as one of the world’s most interesting climates in terms of diversity and take advantage of it in the tourism market. My wife could discuss the geobiological importance of her country, but I’m at a loss to do so. My comprehension of Costa Rican ecology is limited because, to my wife’s shame, I’m woefully uninterested in the science of the environment. However, like any good American, I’m fully prepared to editorialize on the subject, with or without facts. Because of the pride Costa Ricans assume from their environmental initiatives, the presence of litter baffles me.

One of the biggest contradictions in Costa Rican society is the skewed relationship between radical environmentalism and littering. Seven years ago, I was walking with my wife and her little sister, Maricel. Maricel polished off a small bag of cookies and, rather than toss the wrapper on the ground, let the wind simply carry it a few feet away into a bush. Rocio quickly scolded Maricel, who picked the trash up and put it in her pocket. Maricel learned her lesson (although her mom will tell you she still litters in the house).

Unfortunately, litter is an omnipresent feature of urban life in Costa Rica. In San Pedro, the litter is so bad that it clogs the open sewers, preventing the swift passage of water and causing stagnation that could bread mosquitoes, which according to the Ministry of Public Health signs around town, spread dengue fever. Several times a week, I see someone nonchalantly let a piece of garbage, usually a wrapper of some kind, fall from their hands. Today, while I was walking out of a pharmacy in Alajuela, the second biggest city in the country, I even saw a mother wipe her son’s mouth with a napkin and then drop it on the ground. Obviously, I lack the self-confidence to say anything, but I would’ve loved to see a public works employee give that woman a sound ringing.

Of course, the public works employees depend on littering. This army patrols the metropolitan streets, armed with wheeled trashcans. They spend most of their time crawling on the ground unclogging sewers with metal poles rather than picking up litter. What makes these scenes worse is that there are trashcans on most street corners, vainly standing guard against the litteral epidemic. Sadly though, the workers are only in the five or six biggest cities, so smaller cities like San Pedro are left to their own devices. (In Barva de Heredia, I had the pleasure of seeing Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops rumble into the plaza, singing a marching song and stabbing litter with their mighty pole-arms).

Perhaps some of the litter can be attributed to packs of wild, urban dogs, and their lonewolf brethren. I’m sure the dogs in Alajuela’s Central Park (which is a small city block of concrete benches, mango trees, and a lovely, if unused, fountain) are just like the dogs in San Pedro. Here, in our fair pueblo, the dogs attack trash bags like they would a dying hen. The canines, black, white, brown, and gray, approach apprehensively, sniffing their way around the perimeter of a pile of trash bags. They take a few swipes with their unkempt claws, and then find the remnants of fried chicken or stale rice on which they dine. In the process, the dogs expose small bits of paper, wrappers, and beer cans to the wind, which carries most anything it can indiscriminately. Thus, I think dogs must take some of the blame for littering.

The city of Santa Bárbara can take plenty of the blame here in San Pedro. As the biggest city in the area, although tiny compared to Alajuela, is responsible for San Pedro’s waste removal. Over the course of four weeks in June and July, one of Santa Bárbara’s two garbage trucks was in repair.

Unfortunately, those four weeks occurred just as the San Pedro Festival was coming to an end. Because the Festival draws visitors from all over the surrounding area who, like the San Pedreños, love to buy cheap food wrapped in newspapers at the Festival, the town plaza looked like it had been hit by a proverbial tornado. Trash was everywhere, from the front steps of the church to the soccer field to the bingo hall (or should I say “bingo area under a corrugated tin roof?”). The fellows who collected the bathroom tolls at the Festival did their best to clean up, but a week later, dogs ravaged their mountain of garbage bags.

Costa Ricans put their trash bags somewhere along the road and, just like back home in Dayton, the garbage collector picks it up. Unfortunately, with a decommissioned truck, the piles of garbage continued to grow and the dogs continued their feast. To make matters worse, the heavy rains at night caused a horrible odor from the piles of trash. It took just a week for the early morning son and humid afternoons to start rotting the refuse. The stink during my morning jogs was awful. Small piles of trash bags became eye-high hills every twenty or thirty yards around town. One of our neighbors had the bright, though environmentally unfriendly, idea of burning a pile of garbage. Predictably, that caused an odor so foul, it put my morning breath to shame. Phone calls were made to the Santa Bárbara municipal association in vain.

Neighbors complained. Visitors grumbled. Dogs ate. Then, this morning, the garbage truck unceremoniously rumbled down the hill and began the process of hauling our trash away.

I walked down the street toward the center of the pueblo a few moments after the truck passed. Residents were filling old paint buckets with water and splashing away the oily film that was left under the rotting garbage piles. “Look Blondie,” my neighbor Franco said as he poured another bucketful of water. “They’ve got me cleaning the streets now!” Even this evening, as I philosophically contemplate the origins of Costa Rica’s littering problems, I can smell the leftover garbage. Hopefully, a good rainsquall will carry the stench away tomorrow.

Ultimately, people must be held accountable for the waste they create. Neither municipal associations nor public works employees can be tasked with eliminating litter. It’s just up to each individual to put trash where it belongs, just like the pictures on the candy bar wrappers emplore.


The attached photo is of San Pedro's Finest: our unused police detachment. Enjoy the scenary.

alermac
07-25-2008, 01:46 AM
I've been looking at the photos that you've been posting up and I can definitely see that you're in the REAL Latin America.

The reason why I say this is because I've lived in Latin America (Uruguay) but Uruguay as well as Argentina - especially Buenos Aires, are more like a relocated Barcelona or Madrid in Latin America. In addition, the weather in Uruguay and Argentina has the temperate climate and not the exotic Central American weather that you've got in Costa Rica.
I remember reading some categorization in college, it said Latin America could be split in 3: the black one, the mestizo one and the white one. Every country has all three, in different proportions. But, in general, it said Argentina and Uruguay were the white one; Central America, Colombia and Venezuela formed the black one, and Mexico plus the rest of South America formed the mestizo one.


It is very similar in Uruguay because though a Uruguayan will say that they accept all people whether you are white or black or Asian, it is not always the case.
Argentina also has that thing. Since the massive European immigration from many decades ago, popular culture says Argentina is a non-racist country where people from all nationalities are respected, because their hard work helped build our country and our families (I am a grandson of Italians myself). But, at the same time, you see that some immigrations are not welcomed. Maybe it's some sort of nationality ranking: we like Europeans the best, along with Canadiens and Australians; then come Americans; then the Japanese; then the caribbean nations and Mexicans; and Eastern Europeans and every other nationality aren't very welcome. As if it came down to which nationalities are "better" than our own, or not.

PS: Matt, i'm beginning to think your post isn't sponsored by Costa Rican Government's Department of Tourism, or whatever it's called, you might have frightened a potential traveler or two :P

Saskibaloia
07-25-2008, 11:19 PM
But, in general, it said Argentina and Uruguay were the white one

This is why Uruguayans (I don't know about how Argentinians feel) like to distinguish themselves from other Latinos.
For Uruguayans, see themselves as being racially part of Latin America unless you are part of the 5% mulattoes in the poor areas of Montevideo.
In contrast, the Uruguayans see themselves more associated with Western Europe (e.g. France, Italy, Spain etc) because they are racially and culturally closer to these countries rather than your typical Latin American counterparts (e.g. Bolivia, Honduras, Mexico etc).
Unlike these countries Uruguay does not have any indigenous community since they all were wiped out (Those former natives were known as the "Charruas"), the composition of Uruguayans consist of more than 90% full blooded European (60% from Spain - Canary Islands and Galicia form the majority of former Spanish immigrants followed by the Basque; 30% from Italy - mainly from the southern part such as Calabria and Sicily) and the culture of the Uruguayans is very European in the sense of the customs, beliefs and history.

Most people who are not familiar with the composition of Latin America would immediately generalise that all Latinos are brown skin, indigenous background and who have some connection with one of the great empires of either the Aztecs or the Incas. Only to realise that not all Latinos are the same.
This reminds me of the case of the Filipinos. For someone who has not travelled around Asia or who do not have a group of friends filled with all the different types of Asians (In Sydney, it is very easy to have a group of Asian friends of all parts of Asia) they would immediately assume that ALL ASIANS are the same. However, being a Filipino born, Aussie raised and someone who has lived and visited a part of Latin America I could strongly say that the Filipinos are probably closer to Latin America, in terms of culture, history, to a certain degree language (10-20% of Filipino - Tagalog is in Spanish) and other major aspects of the Filipino society than they are to neighbouring Indonesia or Malaysia or even nearby China.

What is interesting is that since Argentina has so many pure blooded "white" European (majority from Spain or Italy and even other parts of Western Europe - France, Germany and even Poland) citizens in their country is a strong reason why their rugby federation believes that they should be associated with the 6-nations rugby tournament in Europe rather than with the Southern Hemisphere "Tri-Nations" competition (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) and in addition, pretty much all of Argentina's best players play in the French rugby competition thus, participation in the European "6-Nations" would not conflict with their national team commitments if the "Pumas" were to be included in the "6-Nations" rather than the "Tri-Nations".





Argentina also has that thing. Since the massive European immigration from many decades ago, popular culture says Argentina is a non-racist country where people from all nationalities are respected, because their hard work helped build our country and our families (I am a grandson of Italians myself). But, at the same time, you see that some immigrations are not welcomed. Maybe it's some sort of nationality ranking: we like Europeans the best, along with Canadiens and Australians; then come Americans; then the Japanese; then the caribbean nations and Mexicans; and Eastern Europeans and every other nationality aren't very welcome. As if it came down to which nationalities are "better" than our own, or not.

PS: Matt, i'm beginning to think your post isn't sponsored by Costa Rican Government's Department of Tourism, or whatever it's called, you might have frightened a potential traveler or two :P

You mentioned about how some immigrations are not welcomed and I can say that in Australia that it is also true because there has been some resentment of immigrants from Islamic/ Middle Eastern countries. However, in Australia everyone EVENTUALLY gets accepted. 20 years ago when my family arrived and I was only a little 2 year old toddler there was heavy opposition from the influx of Asians into Australia because the fear that they will steel our jobs and that Australia will turn into China however, nowadays there are many Asians who have embrassed the Australian culture and have kept their own culture as a result allowing Asians to be more accepted in the Australian society. In summary, though immigrants initially are not welcomed as they should be in Australia eventually they do as long as they are hard working, law abiding and embrace the Australian culture (they're more than welcome to also retain their own culture as well) they will be accepted as part of the Australian society.




PS: Matt, i'm beginning to think your post isn't sponsored by Costa Rican Government's Department of Tourism, or whatever it's called, you might have frightened a potential traveler or two :P

Maybe Matt's sponsored by the cartels ;)

mvblair
07-26-2008, 12:21 AM
Sounds like I need to make a more positive post tomorrow. :D

Jokinen
07-26-2008, 12:22 AM
Its allways a pleasure to read your threads Matt, thanks for sharing...



PD: Cool signature Saski, I love both, the book and the movie.

Saskibaloia
07-26-2008, 02:22 PM
PD: Cool signature Saski, I love both, the book and the movie.

Thanks mate! I actually got it from an article back in Uruguay that was giving a history on the mafia since few weeks later Uruguayan TV would air the TV series "El Capo" from Argentina. Seriously, what ever happens in Buenos Aires will definitely happen in Uruguay.

mvblair
07-28-2008, 11:14 PM
Its allways a pleasure to read your threads Matt, thanks for sharing... Thanks, Diego!! I appreciate you reading, or at least "skimming."

mvblair
07-28-2008, 11:19 PM
Even though Costa Rica has a dozen or so different environmental zones (ranging from tropical to, uh, subtropical), the country has just two seasons. The dry season goes from maybe November to April. The rainy season goes from May to October. As a public school servant in the US, I’m guaranteed nearly three straight months of vacation according to my union contract. Those three months fall right in the middle of the rainy season.

I’m happy as a clam that I don’t spend a lot of time here during the dry season. The rain and the winds from the Pacific Ocean keep the heat away and often make life here cool and pleasant. Of course, sometimes the rain gets downright ugly.

In the rainy season, the sky is almost always a dark gray color. The mornings can be somewhat sunny (extremely sunny by my standards) and the blue can peak through. Such skies move on before I can turn on my camera. Rain starts usually around three of four o’clock in the afternoon and lasts for several hours. Sometimes it can start earlier, around noon and sometimes it can last all day. On rare occasions, a rainsquall will break out in the middle of the night.

Because of my dim, obsessive-compulsive mannerisms, I usually let the rain stop me from having any semblance of a normal life. It barricades me indoors and under building overhangs. In fact, if I were a more courageous fellow, I would probably down at the corner store flicking pebbles across the street rather than hulled up in the kitchen, writing this.

I was in Heredia, one of three or four former colonial capitals, a few years ago on my way to work, where I was tutoring an English class. Again, thanks to my obsessive-compulsive mannerisms, I was downtown with an hour before class started. I took to walking around the central market, which has much less of a fish smell than the Alajuela market. Just as I walked outside, the sky opened and a terrible downpour started. Even the Costa Rica citizens, who are no doubt accustomed to such rainsqualls, were sent scampering into the nearest buildings and stores. Briefly stunned, I ran cartoonishly in circles before finding my way inside Super Gollo, an appliance store where other rain refugees were gathering. Thoroughly soaked after 10 seconds in the middle of the street, I was glad to find some cover. A cold-hearted manager actually started yelling at his employees to force people outside! The employees then came and started trying to convince people to leave. Most of my collegial refugees protested, but I gave in quickly, knowing that my class was about to start. I jumped back into the street and took off towards the Language Institute.

Now, I’m not a top-notch athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I’m also not a huge klutz. I’m just a regular, run-of-the-mill guy who just happened to be neglectful of the poorly constructed, high sidewalks of downtown Heredia. Trying to jump from the street onto a high sidewalk, my black tennis shoe (tip: wear black tennis shoes and it will look exactly like you’re wearing classy dress shoes – no one will be the wiser) slipped when my right foot should’ve landed cleanly. I crashed into the wide gutter, already overflowing with rainwater. I sprung up as fast as I could, tripping again and no doubt adding to the comedy that the witnesses saw from the dry climes of the Banco de Costa Rica building. I couldn’t swallow my pride and run into the bank, so I continued charging down the street until, maybe a block later, I came to a respectable restaurant. I ran up the two or three steps without missing a beat. I paused for a moment before realizing that the rain was being blown across the wood railings that separate the building from the street below. I was soaked, save for my underarms. I squeezed my soggy toes. A few people were standing near the railings with umbrellas open, but it provided little protection to me. Looking at my watch, I saw that class was set to start in just a few minutes. I had nothing to lose except for my job, so I made a mad dash for the Language Institute.

When I stormed into the reception area, my French coworker was seated on the secretary’s desk, flirting with her. He burst into laughter. Of course I wasn’t in the mood to indulge in a healthy, self-effacing laugh, so I went to my appointed classroom, tossed my wet briefcase onto the table, and then turned to see David, my boss.

David is a nice guy. He’s tall with a little beer gut. He’s been living in Costa Rica for 15 years or so and has a good feel for the lay of the land. I’m sure he’s had guys like me come in and out of his institute since it was started. He gave a little chuckle. “Matt, what have you gotten yourself into? What’d you do? Forget to take your clothes off before you showered?”

I wasn’t in the mood and it must have showed. He immediately took off his overshirt and handed it to me. I unbuttoned my shirt and put his one.

“I don’t know what to do about your pants though, Matt,” he said. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but he took my shirt away.

The rain was beating against the windows, which I made sure were sufficiently shut before I sat down on the elongated meeting tables. I was sure to position my legs so that my students wouldn’t notice my accident.

David came back into the room with a pair of gym shorts. I told him the shorts were not necessary, but he explained that Fransini, the secretary, was going to take my clothes to the MegaSuper, where there was a hand blow-dryer in the bathroom. Finally, I swallowed my pride and handed my pants to David. What a great guy. With more or less dry clothes, I greeted my students and finally took in a few giggles about my situation. One of my students, a meteorologist, took a lot of pride in explaining the current weather system to which this rainsquall was attached.

I learned my lesson and took a page out of the genius book of Costa Rican tradition; I always carry an umbrella. It’s a pretty good idea during the rainy season.

Jokinen
07-29-2008, 10:29 PM
Here we really don't have a rainy season, the weather is pretty unpredictable, ir rains a little more during summer but anyway you never know when is going to rain. In Brazil for instance its different it allways rains around 6 pm at least in Sao Pablo where my brother used to live. He told my that at first he was surprised to see a lot of people carrying his umbrellas even in sunny days... of course he found out pretty fast why was that.

mvblair
08-02-2008, 09:27 PM
Costa Ricans are immaculate dressers. If I had any shame left, they would be putting me to it.

My wife is the most immaculate dresser of all. She always takes her time deciding what to wear. Much to my consternation, she will frequently change blouses or pants or skirts several times before we go to the grocery store. Her eye shadow invariably matches the color of her jewelry. Fortunately for me, she does most of her clothes shopping at the thrift store or on sale in department stores, so I don’t exactly mind her having so many clothes, otherwise, I could have some good ideas for “Lockhorns” cartoons.

There are exceptions, but most of the clothes sold in Costa Rica are of a lesser quality than what can be found in the average department store back home. At least that’s what I’m told. I wouldn’t know quality clothes even if I were the foreman at a Tommy Hilfigger sweatshop. The good thing is that the prices in Costa Rica aren’t as destructive as Elder-Beerman and Costa Ricans themselves look wonderful in their clothes.

Costa Rican men tend to dress in slacks and a button-down-the-front shirt. In the morning, I see farmers going off to the fields dressed this way in nice plaids, with creases running from hip to toe, and sturdy work boots. Their machetes dangle from their belts cleanly. When they return in the afternoon, their legs are soiled, shirts unbuttoned, and machetes clearly used. Construction workers will have their nice shirts nearly white from working with bricks and cinder blocks after a day’s work. Butchers, on the other hand, never soil their neatly pressed pants on account of their aprons. Of course, there are exceptions. The under 25 set tends to dress more casually, especially those in the labor-intensive industries. It’s common to see a young cement mixing man or bricklayer sporting rip-off Michael Jordan jersey. There is a small brick house in construction up the road. The “foreman” shows up once in the morning, but otherwise there are strictly young men working there in dirty jeans and filthy t-shirts. Whenever I pass them on the street, their delicious cologne sticks out in contrast to their collective appearance. Obviously, bankers, office workers, and government workers don’t come home with dirt on their clothes or uniforms. They tend to dress exactly like their North American counterparts.

Women here for the most part dress very fashionably. They attire themselves in beautifully coordinated outfits with colors that invariably flatter their overall appearance. Young women dress much like my wife. Those who work dress appropriately for their profession: pharmacists in white lab coats, store workers in uniforms or nice blouses, office workers in button-up blouses and skirts. On the weekends, younger women tend to turn much more provocative. They find colorful, tight blouses with jeans or mini-skirts that are without a doubt two sizes too small. They always compliment their outfits with perfect make-up, enormous circular or dangling earrings, and other trinkets, most of it pleasant costume jewelry. Middle-aged Costa Rican women dress similarly, although perhaps they are more modest than younger women on the weekend. Again, there are many, many exceptions. Prostitutes are liable to show their thongs and librarians their horn-rimmed glasses. (That’s a joke. There are no librarians in Costa Rican outside the universities).

Children from elementary school to high school wear uniforms on schooldays. All uniforms have a white or light-colored top and a dark bottom, perhaps scarlet or navy blue or forest green. Girls have the option to skirts instead of the slacks, which they seem to enjoy wearing as taut as a Cuban wrapper. Some girls delight in unbuttoning a few of the top buttons, so a lot of high schools are turning to golf shirts. Several years ago, the girls were not allowed to wear make-up or jewelry. From what I’ve seen recently, the public schools are relaxing in this matter, even with the boys. I’ve seen more than a few adolescent boys with the typical “skater” piercings in their ears or noses or lips. For boys and girls, their shirts must be tucked into their pants during classes, but when they leave school grounds, must of them pull those tails out as they start dialing their cell phones.

In Costa Rica, babies and small children are dressed in the same, innocent fashion as they are dressed everywhere else in the world. However, one thing that shakes my nerves is the sight of two-month old infant girls with earrings. In my years of being forced to smile and exhort pleasantries at the parents of infants, I have never seen one of these prune-looking girls without an earring.

Even the senior set in Costa Rica dresses well: button-down-the-front shirts and pressed pants or long skirts. I enjoy saluting the senior couples on the street that leads to the corner store every morning. One of the men, who I’ve taken to calling “cowboy,” often has a nice leather hat on, even though he gets by with a rickety walker.

One of my favorite holidays is the day of the Annexation of Guanacasta, which falls at the end June. This holiday celebrates the day in which the province of Guanacasta voted to secede from Nicaragua and join Costa Rica. Traditionally, men from Guanacasta wear white-buttoned shirts, khaki pants, a cowboy hat, and a red handkerchief around their neck. The women wear long, flowing, silky skirts, striped from top to bottom in rainbow colors, that can be flung into the air when dancing. Guanacastan women also wear a loose white blouse that shows their shoulders, along with some style of headdress. Very few people dress like this these days unless they happen to be celebrating the Annexation of Guanacasta.

These are simply my generalized observations on Costa Rican fashion. There are plenty of exceptions of course. In fact, most citizens probably don’t fit into any of these categories. Costa Rica has its fair share of eccentric trends. In particular, I’m thinking of San Pedro’s very own Paco Loco, who wears shiny military-style shoes with camouflage shorts and baseball caps.

J-Mart
08-02-2008, 10:19 PM
Costa Ricans have a nasty penchant for showing up late
Americans have a nasty habit of showing up early! :)
If ur in latinamerica you should know that u should wait 30 minutes and then show up to the place (you still will be early), and if ur dealing with a women, at least hour and a half (and you'll have to wait another hour for her to decide what to wear) :rolleyes:

mvblair
08-05-2008, 12:53 AM
Americans have a nasty habit of showing up early! :)
Hah, hah!! :D
If ur in latinamerica you should know that u should wait 30 minutes and then show up to the place (you still will be early), and if ur dealing with a women, at least hour and a half (and you'll have to wait another hour for her to decide what to wear) :rolleyes: I know you're exaggerating, man, but it's true!!

Neozyrus
08-05-2008, 10:45 AM
You know, i lately cant post a lot ( im just a little trapped working 16 hours a day :( ), but i couldnt resist writing here just to say how much i like this thread.

Thx a lot matt for sharing it

PS: (Looking at the pics) As JCN said to you earlier : You lucky bastard :D:D:D

robbe
08-05-2008, 02:30 PM
Very nice stuff indeed, Matt.:)

mvblair
08-07-2008, 12:47 AM
PS: (Looking at the pics) As JCN said to you earlier : You lucky bastard :D:D:D Yeah, I know. :D :D
Very nice stuff indeed, Matt. :) Thanks, Rob. I hope you're not reading all of it. I think I write too much.

mvblair
08-07-2008, 12:56 AM
One of the unfortunate realities of Costa Rica is that there are serious alcohol problems. Alcoholism is a worldwide problem of course, but I think that we in the United States do plenty to cover it up within our families and workplaces. In Costa Rica, alcoholism is a more public problem, perhaps because of the relatively extreme poverty. Even in sleepy San Pedro, there are numerous public alcoholics.

The drink of choice for most Costa Rican alcoholics is guaro, also known colloquially as “toad water.” In English, we call it “moonshine.” There are a dozen or so people in San Pedro who sell guaro illegally. Almost all of them work in the enormous coffee plantations on the hills surrounding the village. They fill an oil drum with river water and take it to the middle of a coffee field. Then they throw in a few sugarcane heads, some yeast, and some miscellaneous ingredients like rubbing alcohol or fruits, depending on how quickly they want it finished and whether or not they want to give it flavor. After several days, what is left in the oil drum is forced through a “snake hose” and filtered into more river water. Thus, the chemical process is finished and the guaro is funneled into old Fanta bottles from which alcoholics get their fix. One bottle costs the consumer about a dollar, give or take the time of week.

On Monday, I bought the morning paper and the corner store and took it to the plaza (normally I would read it outside the corner store, but Odiney is adding a second floor so her family can sleep there and I don’t want to get hit by the little chips of concrete that the workers kick off the roof). When I got to the plaza, a drunken man accosted me. It was a little after seven o’clock. His shirt was once red but had been turned pick by too much dust and too much sun. I could smell his alcohol-soaked skin from two or three yards away. The man had a full, scraggly beard and uncombed hair, but only a few yellow teeth. He mumbled something about wanting just one more drunk, holding out his hand for me to deposit some coins. “Sorry,” I lied. He spat on the ground and walked to a skinny mother carrying her infant in one arm and holding the hand of her daughter. She gave him the same reaction, but with more scorn. The next day, Tuesday, I saw the same man with the same shirt sleeping at a bus stop on the main drag in town. I hate to say this, but he looked serene and relaxed for a man who had been drunk for more than a day.

The big cities attract an equal number of drunks, who probably buy their guaro at a little more expensive price. That’s understandable given the economics of distributing the stuff in the big cities. Fortunately for them, they have better panhandling prospects than the rural alcoholics. Alajuela is the second biggest city in Costa Rica. It’s only a 35 cent bus ride away from San Pedro, so I enjoy spending a few hours there twice a week. On any given trip to Alajuela, I see three or four drunks within a three-block radius of the Catedral church downtown. Most of them are in quite repose, sleeping in a gutter or on a neatly arranged bed of cardboard boxes near the bus terminal. The pairs of policemen and women who patrol downtown try lazily to keep them out of the central park in front of the Catedral, but leave merchants to shoo them away from their shops. A few weeks ago, I saw a nun poking a drunk with her umbrella, admonishing him for drunkenness. He was sleeping under an overhand on a public street. I played like the rest of the public and kept walking.

Rosa, my mother-in-law, cleans and cooks for a woman who is a “respectable” alcoholic. Doña Felicia is in her 50s. Her husband is a businessman of some sort who works in the duty-free industrial center. I’ve been told that Doña Felicia is not the same as the alcoholics on the street, even though she drinks quite a bit. Doña Felicia gets her guaro from a woman who makes it in her house, not in the coffee fields. Also, Doña Felicia mixes her guaro with store-bought vodka and sometimes a little fruit juice. Apparently this is a much more decent way of getting drunk, even though she sleeps through the late afternoon until her husband gets home. A week before my wedding with Rocio, I held a serenade in which I took my guitar outside, sung my pathetic translation of “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and then ate grilled beef on a stick. Doña Felicia arrived with her daughter in the middle of a song and promptly told me how handsome I was and how special it was that I could marry a beautiful, unspoiled virgin like Rocio. Rosa hid her bottle of guaro, which she was conservatively pouring in glasses of an eggnog-like drink called ronpopi. She was super-friendly the whole night, grabbing stranger’s bottoms as she gave them random hugs.

Many South American Indians come to Costa Rica and make a living selling beautiful, mass-produced handicrafts or CDs with pan flute versions of “Hotel California.” They will dress in an Indian headdress with their knock-off Reeboks sticking out under colorful serapes. Usually, one person will play the pan flute, another will play a keyboard or set up the digitized karaoke, and another person will flash the discs for the people who are walking by on the street. (In the interests of full disclosure, I love these little concerts). Every time I’ve seen one of these concerts, there has always been a drunk dancing in his dirty t-shirt in front of the flutist. At one such concert in Santa Bárbara this year, a drunk had taken his usual place and was trying to harmonize with the flutist. The flutist’s wife tried several times to shoo him away, but he only snarled at her impudently and tried singing louder. I approached the woman, hoping she’d have a CD with The Beatles cover songs that her husband was playing, which will make a great souvenir that my Dad can put on his shelf and not listen to. I asked if she had one with “that singer too.” She must have thought I spoke terrible Spanish because she insisted that he was on the CD. I told her I was joking about the drunk man, and she grabbed my arm laughing, “I won’t just sell you the CD, I’ll sell you the singer!”

I don’t know where Costa Rica’s severe problem with alcoholism comes from. I suppose it’s a mixture of extreme poverty, poor mental health care, and cheap moonshine. Perhaps this is where all alcoholism, even that which is hidden in the US, comes from. To avoid situations with alcoholics sleeping in the streets and no doubt draining family resources, the governments of both countries should do more to combat this harmful addiction.


The attached picture is of a fellow enjoying himself in one of he big towns nearby...

mvblair
08-07-2008, 01:01 AM
I’d heard talk earlier in the day in Odiney’s corner store, but I chose to ignore it, maybe thinking that the two strangers buying water by the liter were going into the mountains for a picnic. When Don Paulo, one of the more important members of the Soto family, joked with me at the bus stop about really needing rain today even though it was the middle of the wet season, I’d laughed without knowing why I was laughing. Even when the girl playing with her doll in the middle of the street outside the truck distribution gate asked me if we had water at our house, I didn’t pick up on the news that everyone in town, including little Katia, knew.

San Pedro is once again without one of her public utilities. Somehow, I’d failed to discover this even though I’d taken a shower, brushed my teeth, and thoroughly drenched my face in the cool water of the clothes washbasin. Today’s missing utility is, of course, water. Hence, I’m now doing my best to “hold it in,” so that I only use the bathroom when it is completely urgent, perhaps conserving a 3.8-liter flush. Alas, this is a scene oft repeated on the outskirts of the Central Valley where public utilities tend to be stretched to the limit.

Apparently I’d wasted most of the reserve water that was available to our house in the barrel-sized plastic water tank above the house. I didn’t feel the least bit guilty because, I reasoned, somebody should have been more direct in telling the only gringo in town that we were without water. Again.

My wife is sure that today’s problem is on account of the national holiday, Guanacasta Annexation Day, in which all public employees are given the day off and private employees must be paid double (although apparently my mother-in-law’s employer, the wealthy widow of an ex-congressional deputy, had not been told). Naturally, somewhere between the water purifier in the mountains and our fair pueblo, the water line broke. Public employees were busy celebrating the anniversary of Guanacasta’s semi-democratic decision to secede from Nicaragua and join the illustrious Central American Republic of Costa Rica some 180 years ago.

As such, I’m trying my best right now to “hold it in” so I won’t waste any more precious water in the tank.

When darkness first fell several hours ago, I ran outside, intending to make the river in front of our house my new urinal. Although I couldn’t see the river well, I assumed it was as muddy as usual given the pig farm upstream. To my surprise, Don José was already at the river. He heard me coming down the hill like a clumsy elephant but, he said, since I was a caballero, he didn’t care whether or not I saw him. Don José remarked that this was the biggest problem in Costa Rica, the fact that public utilities were often lacking. This type of thing probably never happens there, he said referring to my home country. He zipped up and patted me on the back. I waited until he was a few yards away before I started my business.

The first time I’d been subject to a blackout here, I approached it in the same way as I would back home. I thought it would be quaint and that we would have fun with candles and stories and songs. Everybody just went to bed early and I was left with visions of a bucolic past in which I imagined Costa Ricans telling fireside stories about La Llorona, the mother who lost her child in the river and cries every night. It was not to be. Electricity, water, and telephone service are so frequently lost that the quaintness is gone. It’s not fun because it reminds them, I think, that their country is still developing and has yet to solve many of the basic problems associated with rapid urbanization.

Several years ago, there were few telephones in San Pedro. When I wanted to talk with my future wife, I would have to call a neighbor who would lean out of her window and call for Rocio to come quickly. When the Ruiz family finally had a telephone line connected, it would still be a pain trying to get through the bottlenecked telephone nodes.

In 2007, I worked with a civic committee that was against the Central American Free Trade Agreement. One of the chief arguments against CAFTA was that Costa Rica’s utilities would be privatized. People who worked for the national “monopolies” would lose their jobs. Although I was against CAFTA, I didn’t exactly buy our propaganda that threatened Costa Ricans with having their water resources exploited through privatization. The matter was obviously about jobs, with the large national unions afraid their ranks would diminish when US and Canadian companies started buying up the utilities and firing employees. This could be a potential problem, especially for RACSA, the national telephone company, which will probably face increased competition in light of the increased use of cell phones. Cell phones invaded the country before most citizens had their houses connected to the telephone network. Many people just bought cell phones before having landlines. My Dad read an article once about how this has occurred throughout most of the world. This means that Costa Ricans are not affected as much by a telephone outage as they are when the electricity or water is on the fritz.

A principal road runs between the larger cities of Santa Bárbara and Alajuela, cutting our town like a knife. It’s potholed and unmarked. Whenever there is a public utility failure, only one side is affected. This is because the utilities are so tenuous that failsafes cannot be built into the system in case one line breaks down. I imagine that a line of pipes could be easily constructed to connect the two sides of the pueblo. Of course, the money that Costa Rica’s provinces and counties and cities have to fund such projects is minimal. I’m sure a city planner much smarter than me knows why there is only one entrance sewer for our water.

The water will no doubt be restored sometime early tomorrow afternoon. In the morning, neighbors will joke about taking a shower in the rain and fetching cooking water from the river. In the meantime, I’m heading down to the river for another go.




The attached photo is of our house's water tank, which gives the house a little more water pressure and holds water reserves. I didn't take the picture for the tank, though. Check out the roosters in the tree on the left. That's darn cute.

mvblair
08-14-2008, 06:25 PM
Just a few photos of life in Alajuela, one of the biggest cities in the country, about a 30 minute busride from our home.

Mercado Central - Everybody loves pictures of fruit. The Mercado Central in Alajuela is not the prettiest place in the world, but it is great for a $1.50 lunch.

Man Singing - This poor fellow was singing in the plaza in front of the Alajuela Cathedral. He could barely move his hands around the guitar, so he beat it more like a drum.

View of Mercado Central on the Right - A picture that I took from a store above the streets of Alajuela.

mvblair
08-14-2008, 06:32 PM
I’m the first to admit that I know very little about high cuisine. I know the simple fact that my wife is a wonderful cook and the food here is nice and cheap. I don’t think Costa Rica is recognized as the home of one of the world’s great cuisines (which my Dad classifies as Chinese, Mexican, and Italian) nor does it have many restaurants that have “AAA Four Star” ratings. At least there are none that I know of; my scope is mostly limited to the stretch of mountains in the northeast Central Valley. Unfortunately for my stomach, I tend to eat like a mountain goat in these parts.

In contrast to office workers and other city dwellers, farmers usually have a big breakfast. The staple of the Costa Rican breakfast is the traditional dish, gallo pinto, which translates to something like “painted rooster.” Supposedly rice and beans look like a painted rooster. Go figure. Most people like to pour natilla, a light, runny, sour cream on their rice and beans. Gallo pinto is often accompanied by some type of scrambled, hard-boiled, or fried egg, a big piece of bread with natilla or jam, and a few hot cups of homegrown coffee. In the bigger cities, mountains of French bread rolls are baked overnight and sent like newspapers to the smaller towns and corner stores. Kids or señoras are sent each morning to buy them in the morning for their families. Costa Ricans rural and urban love to spread dressing on this bread and eat it with slices of bologna and cheese in a sandwich. There are very few restaurants that serve breakfast (except for the Denny’s out by the airport), so people on the go usually grab a bag of fruit empanadas or some other junk food.

Lunch for Costa Ricans is also divided along rural/urban lines. City folk tend to carry leftovers in plastic containers and eat that with their coffee in the office. Rural folk will walk or ride their bicycles home and eat a light lunch there. It will consist of something like a plate of rice, some beans on the side, and a filet of fish or chicken, whatever their señora whipped up during the morning. After a little siesta or a perusal of the paper, they’ll march back to work. I’ve had more than one farmer joke with me about needing to get off the porch and head into the fields again.

Lunch in the city or in the smaller towns is wonderfully cheap in the sodas, those delicious open air fast-food joints scattered throughout the country. Although you can get a burger and fries, most lunchtime goers opt for a casado, which literally means “married couple.” It is so called because the food in a casado “always goes together.” Casados come with an enormous ladle of rice, a side of beans, a small spoon of cole-slaw or other random mayonnaise salad, a few pickled vegetables called esceviche, two slices of fried plantain, and the dinner’s choice of onion-covered steak, chicken in tomato sauce, baked fish, seasoned pork chop, or other meat, depending on what the owner of the soda decided to whip up that morning. For me, the most appetizing part of a casado is the tall glass of fruit juice that comes along with it. Some people opt to pay a little extra for a Coke or juice in a bottle, but I never go wrong with fresh squeezed mora, guava, tamarindo, pineapple, or cas juice. It foams at the top and the pulp always sinks to the bottom, making the end of the meal extra sweet. The other day in a dark but clean soda, I asked the woman for another glass because a morning of walking made me thirsty. She flashed one of those pretty, wrinkled, old-lady smiles, cleaned her hands on a blood-covered apron, poured more tamarindo into my glass, and said “I never charge handsome boys for extra juice. It keeps them around and gives me something to look at.” She was clearly joking and I appreciated the false sincerity. In the central markets of the biggest cities, where the smells rise and fall with the sun, a casado lunch costs about a dollar. In a more reputable soda on the street, they run about two dollars, but that includes clean silverware.

While dinner is a big meal in Costa Rica, I don’t think it is given the same imagined priority that it has at home the US. There, we like to think that dinnertime is family time, whether we’re eating together or feigning guilt that we’re not. In Costa Rica, at least in my experience, dinner is not eaten as a family; but rather, it is served buffet-style whenever the diner is hungry. Since I’m not familiar with the customs of dinner, I will simply write about the variety that is found in our home.

My mother-in-law, Rosa, loves soup. If she could, I think she would eat soup everyday. Her favorite soup is olla de carne, literally “pot of meat.” This traditional dish is a simple pot of boiled vegetables, usually celery, a root called yucca, carrots, potatoes, and a half-ear of corn. The main attraction of this soup is a big slice of tender roast beef. Another soup that Rosa likes is ceviche. I’m not sure if there is a translation for this word. If there is, it literally must be something like “raw fish soaked in lemon juice with some pickled vegetables slices that has a good, sour taste.” Come to think of it, I’m not sure if ceviche is ever served in homes, but it’s a staple of restaurants and sodas. Some people say it’s an acquired taste, but I took to it right away. A good soup that Rosa made yesterday is sopa de menudo, which is similar to olla de carne except that it includes parts of the chicken that don’t take to being fried, including feet that are sucked to get out the soft marrow. A soup that I dislike is sopa de mondogo. Again, it’s like holla de carne with plenty of vegetables. Instead of chicken bits or roast beef, sopa de mondogo’s base is bull tripe. I dislike it immensely. The tripe is rubbery and slippery in the mouth, like thin slices of hard-to-chew fat. My favorite soup, which Rosa also made this week, is sopa negra, or “black soup.” A delicious, dark broth is made from black beans and pepper leaves. As the mixture is boiling, a few eggs are cracked and tossed into the pot. The eggs immediately boil into a funny shape that leaves the yoke and the white largely intact. (In Dayton, my wife always makes this in the winter on Friday nights. It’s always a treat for me to come home from a basketball game and have this ready for me).

While Rosa loves soup, my wife likes picadillos. I think the best translation for picadillo is something like “chopped meals” or maybe “little bites.” A vegetable, like a potato or a chayote, which is like a round zucchini, is painstakingly chopped into little cubes. It’s sautéed with just a little ground beef and a few spices. Picadillos are always served over a heaping pile of rice, so it comes out like a nice stew. They’ll fill anybody up pretty quickly. I tend to overdue it when my wife makes it.

My younger sister-in-law Maricel isn’t much for home cooking. She prefers the greasy junk food from the soda but she can’t get that every night. Under the laws of machismo, she must prove to her boyfriend that she can cook at least once in a while. When Maricel cooks, she likes to make basic, stovetop meats like thin-cut beef steaks or chicken cooked in a powdered mix. “Maggie” brand powdered mixes are a favorite of hers and many Costa Ricans (and people the world over for that matter). They can be found in the corner stores here and the big stores in the US. “Maggie” mixes are similar to powdered marinades in the US. Just sprinkle it on top of a chicken leg and you’ve got Cuban chicken or spicy chicken or lemon chicken or what have you.

Every meal in Costa Rica is supplemented with a mound of rice. Several years ago I was almost shocked at the amount of “Tio Pelón” brand rice that Rosa brought back from the market (why would somebody call their rice company “Bald Uncle” brand?). Every two weeks, she buys about 20 pounds of rice for the family. The rice is cooked with a cut of butter and a few slices of onions. There is always rice sitting in our rice maker, the first appliance Central Americans ever buy (second must be the coffee maker). Because rice is so important to the diet here, I often fool around by doling the rice onto plates with a dinky, little spoon, the joke being that I should be using the spade-sized spoons that are meant for shoveling rice onto plates. The most common meals in Costa Rica are the simple but delicious dishes of rice with chopped up meat or poultry.

Special occasions Costa Ricans of course cook special, traditional feasts. Christmas is the time for tamales. These are a little different from the tamales that we can find in Mexican restaurants in Ohio. The process of cooking tamales is long. It starts with corn flour and pork fat dough, which must be prepared ahead of time and has a very grainy texture. Then, pan-cooked spiced pork is then set on the table in a huge pot. Bowls of olives, carrot slices, green onions, soft corn kernels, and other little vegetables are laid out in a buffet. Family members gather around the table, individually pull out square foot sheets of plantain leaves and slap fistfuls of dough in the center of the leaves. They push a small piece of pork into the dough and add the vegetables. Then, the plantain leaf is folded so that the dough mixture is left inside. The whole thing, which now looks like a small rectangular box, is put with a pair, called a piña and tied with twine. It’s boiled for an hour, give or take. Depending on the family’s tastes, and not all families make tamales, two or three hundred of these suckers are made, though I think some families even make up to five hundred. The tamales are then eaten and given away by the dozen. Usually the tamales are stored in a freezer for safe eating a few weeks later, which is fine by me because I usually get sick of them after four or five days of nothing but.

Costa Ricans eat a huge variety of foods. Some of it is not so healthy but for the most part, they eat natural, unpackaged foods. In addition to the meals described above, Costa Ricans cook pastas, meat pies, plenty of fish, and, if I haven’t mentioned it, lots of rice and beans.

Although not exactly French pastries, Costa Ricans also love breads that are sweet and sugary. Sometime around four o’clock, a plenty of people in this country take their coffee break. If it’s a weekend, friends or family will pass from house to house, drinking a couple cups each day. They’ll accompany their coffee with any assortment of bread, cookies, and crackers. A nice loaf of fresh bread with chocolate butter poured on top runs about a dollar and twenty-five cents. Fruit-stuffed empanadas are even cheaper, but in my opinion, these are usually of a pretty low quality, dry and preserved. Coffee is one of Costa Rica’s biggest exports, along with bananas and miniskirts. To the daily consternation of my mother-in-law, I’m not a coffee drinker, so I can’t write much about the taste. A lot of tourists come to this country with expectations that the coffee will be much better than the fare in the US or Germany or France. An American once told me that the coffee in a Costa Rican McDonald’s is ten times better than Starbucks. Personally, I think that was a self-fulfilling prophecy. He expected great coffee and any hot drink would have served the purpose. My wife, who can’t go 12 hours without a cup or two, insists that the coffee in Ohio is about the same as that in Costa Rica. Coffee plantations in Costa Rica sell their coffee to Folgers and Maxwell alone with the local distributors. After a coffee bean is dried, there really isn’t much difference in the taste unless ingredients are added. The flavor and texture is mostly the same. In most houses here, the cheapest coffee is bought at the supermarket or corner store, sold in little bags that last about a week.

US fast food joints don’t adjust their prices for the standard of living, so I think a lot of people go to those places to either show off or to give their children a special treat. People who go to the international-style malls go knowing that they’re getting ripped off. People who go to the movies on Wednesdays (the price is two for one) will sometimes pack lunches, which no doubt embarrasses the heck out of kids. Pulling some boiled eggs and a tamale out of a plastic bag is a little corny for the young ones, but economically sound for mom and dad who already spent ten bucks buying movie tickets and a bus ride.

In traditional restaurants like those in the tourist zones, the prices can get very expensive, perhaps $15 per meal on average and surely up into the $100s at some of the resorts, but I can’t see how they could serve anything much better than a casado. With a casado, you get a nice piece of meat with a couple of sides and fresh juice. What more could they offer at a resort?

The Chinese food here seems to be about the same as it is back home and the prices are more reasonable. Unfortunately, for a time in the ‘90s there was a scare that Chinese restaurant cooks were whipping up cats and dogs and so forth. Costa Rica’s resident Noble Peace Prize winner and President, Oscar Arias, made a public spectacle out of a visit to a Chinese restaurant, supposedly to calm the xenophobia, but more likely because he wanted to assure Taiwanese diplomats that he was ready to protect their interests in any form (his government was later accused of mishandling Taiwanese donations in 2008). The fears were not completely assuaged, because my sister-in-law says with all conviction that the Chinese restaurant near the Alajuela clinc cooks rat embryos in place of shrimp. My favorite thing to order at a Chinese restaurant is an egg role, because I like using the local nomenclature, “a Chinese taco.”

The price of raw food in Costa Rica is controlled. This keeps agricultural prices affordable for most people, except for the drunk I saw in the plaza this afternoon who needs a few coins for some “rice.” Unfortunately, price controls do not extend to packaged foods, which are out of reach for a lot of people here. Packaged foods, especially imported foods, are pricey relative to the average income. There are some local factories that produce foodstuff, although they usually come from factories or bakeries that haven’t passed a Ministry of Health inspection for years. Thus, a lot of labor is put into cooking, preparing, and keeping food in individual houses. I like that personally, although I understand the desire of all people to pop a TV dinner into the microwave and eat in 5 minutes rather spending an hour chopping, mixing, boiling, and baking.

The food here might not be up to Parisian standards but the average person like me will be delighted with the variety of country foods in houses and the prices of meals in sodas and smaller restaurants.



Attached is a picture of my wife, Rocio, eating sopa de menudo.

mvblair
08-19-2008, 09:29 PM
I'm repeating a little here, but I don't think anyone is reading my full posts anyhow. At least I hope they're not.


One of the unfortunate realities of Costa Rica is that there are serious alcohol problems. Alcoholism is a worldwide problem of course, but I think that we in the United States do plenty to cover it up within our families and workplaces. In Costa Rica, alcoholism is a more public problem, perhaps because of the relatively extreme poverty. Even in sleepy San Pedro, there are numerous public alcoholics.

The drink of choice for most Costa Rican alcoholics is guaro, also known colloquially as “toad water.” In English, we call it “moonshine.” There are a dozen or so people in San Pedro who sell guaro illegally. Almost all of them work in the enormous coffee plantations on the hills surrounding the village. They fill an oil drum with river water and take it to the middle of a coffee field. Then they throw in a few sugarcane heads, some yeast, and some miscellaneous ingredients like rubbing alcohol or fruits, depending on how quickly they want it finished and whether or not they want to give it flavor. After several days, what is left in the oil drum is forced through a “snake hose” and filtered into more river water. Thus, the chemical process is finished and the guaro is funneled into old Fanta bottles from which alcoholics get their fix. One bottle costs the consumer about a dollar, give or take the time of week.

I wrote earlier that ‘Cisco works half-days at a farm and then spends his meager salary on guaro. He’s not the only one. On Monday, I bought the morning paper and the corner store and took it to the plaza (normally I would read it outside the corner store, but Odiney is adding a second floor so her family can sleep there and I don’t want to get hit by the little chips of concrete that the workers kick off the roof). When I got to the plaza, a drunken man accosted me. It was a little after seven o’clock. His shirt was once red but had been turned pick by too much dust and too much sun. I could smell his alcohol-soaked skin from two or three yards away. The man had a full, scraggly beard and uncombed hair, but only a few yellow teeth. He mumbled something about wanting just one more drunk, holding out his hand for me to deposit some coins. “Sorry,” I lied. He spat on the ground and walked to a skinny mother carrying her infant in one arm and holding the hand of her daughter. She gave him the same reaction, but with more scorn. The next day, Tuesday, I saw the same man with the same shirt sleeping at a bus stop on the main drag in town. I hate to say this, but he looked serene and relaxed for a man who had been drunk for more than a day.

The big cities attract an equal number of drunks, who probably buy their guaro at a little more expensive price. That’s understandable given the economics of distributing the stuff in the big cities. Fortunately for them, they have better panhandling prospects than the rural alcoholics. Alajuela is the second biggest city in Costa Rica. It’s only a 35 cent bus ride away from San Pedro, so I enjoy spending a few hours there twice a week. On any given trip to Alajuela, I see three or four drunks within a three-block radius of the Catedral church downtown. Most of them are in quite repose, sleeping in a gutter or on a neatly arranged bed of cardboard boxes near the bus terminal. The pairs of policemen and women who patrol downtown try lazily to keep them out of the central park in front of the Catedral, but leave merchants to shoo them away from their shops. A few weeks ago, I saw a nun poking a drunk with her umbrella, admonishing him for drunkenness. He was sleeping under an overhand on a public street. I played like the rest of the public and kept walking.

Rosa, my mother-in-law, cleans and cooks for a woman who is a “respectable” alcoholic. Doña Felicia is in her 50s. Her husband is a businessman of some sort who works in the duty-free industrial center. I’ve been told that Doña Felicia is not the same as the alcoholics on the street, even though she drinks quite a bit. Doña Felicia gets her guaro from a woman who makes it in her house, not in the coffee fields. Also, Doña Felicia mixes her guaro with store-bought vodka and sometimes a little fruit juice. Apparently this is a much more decent way of getting drunk, even though she sleeps through the late afternoon until her husband gets home. A week before my wedding with Rocio, I held a serenade in which I took my guitar outside, sung my pathetic translation of “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and then ate grilled beef on a stick. Doña Felicia arrived with her daughter in the middle of a song and promptly told me how handsome I was and how special it was that I could marry a beautiful, unspoiled virgin like Rocio. Rosa hid her bottle of guaro, which she was conservatively pouring in glasses of an eggnog-like drink called ronpopi. She was super-friendly the whole night, grabbing stranger’s bottoms as she gave them random hugs.

Many South American Indians come to Costa Rica and make a living selling beautiful, mass-produced handicrafts or CDs with pan flute versions of “Hotel California.” They will dress in an Indian headdress with their knock-off Reeboks sticking out under colorful serapes. Usually, one person will play the pan flute, another will play a keyboard or set up the digitized karaoke, and another person will flash the discs for the people who are walking by on the street. (In the interests of full disclosure, I love these little concerts). Every time I’ve seen one of these concerts, there has always been a drunk dancing in his dirty t-shirt in front of the flutist. At one such concert in Santa Bárbara this year, a drunk had taken his usual place and was trying to harmonize with the flutist. The flutist’s wife tried several times to shoo him away, but he only snarled at her impudently and tried singing louder. I approached the woman, hoping she’d have a CD with The Beatles cover songs that her husband was playing, which will make a great souvenir that my Dad can put on his shelf and not listen to. I asked if she had one with “that singer too.” She must have thought I spoke terrible Spanish because she insisted that he was on the CD. I told her I was joking about the drunk man, and she grabbed my arm laughing, “I won’t just sell you the CD, I’ll sell you the singer!”

I don’t know where Costa Rica’s severe problem with alcoholism comes from. I suppose it’s a mixture of extreme poverty, poor mental health care, and cheap moonshine. Perhaps this is where all alcoholism, even that which is hidden in the US, comes from. To avoid situations with alcoholics sleeping in the streets and no doubt draining family resources, the governments of both countries should do more to combat this harmful addiction.


The attached photo is from San Pedro's plaza. This is my wife's small hometown, which has a fair share of drunks.

mvblair
08-20-2008, 03:27 PM
Here are a few photos from Heredia, another big city in the Central Valley.

Heredia Cathedral - This church was first built in 1797. I think it has been partially rebuilt a few times after serious earthquakes. It is right in the center of Heredia with a huge, beautiful plaza in front of it. At one of the corners of the church is El Fortin, a colonial fort (I guess designed to fight against attacking natives in the Central Valley???). Funny thing about El Fortin: the gun slits in the walls are wider on the outside than on the inside, making it easier to fire bullets into the building and more difficult to fire out.

Rain on the Streets - It rains a lot during the Rainy Season. Go figure. I was waiting for the rain to end while drinking some juice in a nice little restaurant.

Different Buildings - I like this picture because of the contrast in the two buildings. The municipal building shows a picture of El Fortin on the corner. The other buildings are run-down houses. It's very common in Latin America to see these kinds of contrasts, I think.

Pretty Mural - Costa Ricans paint lots of pretty murals all over the place. Some of the murals are for private companies and others are public works projects. You can see El Fortin again in this mural.

J-Mart
09-04-2008, 04:06 PM
why costa ricans are called "Ticos"?

mvblair
09-04-2008, 05:22 PM
I forgot to say that I've returned back to beautiful Dayton, Ohio. The school year has started and my vacation is over. I wrote a few more things about Costa Rica, but I don't think anybody is that interested except for me! :p I'll try to post a few more interesting photographs though.

why costa ricans are called "Ticos"?
I've heard two different reasons:

1) Costa Ricans sometime say "itico" as a diminutive, but only for specific words. Like, they might say "chiquitico." (But most of the time they use the regular "ito" as a diminutive, like "guapito").
2) Costa Ricans used to call each other "hermaniticos," ("little brothers") so "Tico" is a shortened way to say that.

I don't know which is correct, but I've heard both.

Now, why do Puerto Ricans call themselves "Boricuas?" Somebody told me that Mexicans consider "Boricua" a bad word.

J-Mart
09-05-2008, 02:24 AM
I forgot to say that I've returned back to beautiful Dayton, Ohio. The school year has started and my vacation is over. I wrote a few more things about Costa Rica, but I don't think anybody is that interested except for me! :p I'll try to post a few more interesting photographs though.

I've heard two different reasons:

1) Costa Ricans sometime say "itico" as a diminutive, but only for specific words. Like, they might say "chiquitico." (But most of the time they use the regular "ito" as a diminutive, like "guapito").
2) Costa Ricans used to call each other "hermaniticos," ("little brothers") so "Tico" is a shortened way to say that.

I don't know which is correct, but I've heard both.

Now, why do Puerto Ricans call themselves "Boricuas?" Somebody told me that Mexicans consider "Boricua" a bad word.
oh well :D Puertorricans and mexicans have never been the best of friends :D Being a "charro" for mexicans is something to be proud while for us, a "charro" is someone boring, not funny or a lousy joker.

The Taino Indians called the island "Boriken" or "Borinquen", thats why we identify ourselves as Boricuas.

Khalid80
09-05-2008, 09:51 AM
Here are a few photos from Heredia, another big city in the Central Valley.

Heredia Cathedral - This church was first built in 1797. I think it has been partially rebuilt a few times after serious earthquakes. It is right in the center of Heredia with a huge, beautiful plaza in front of it. At one of the corners of the church is El Fortin, a colonial fort (I guess designed to fight against attacking natives in the Central Valley???). Funny thing about El Fortin: the gun slits in the walls are wider on the outside than on the inside, making it easier to fire bullets into the building and more difficult to fire out.

Rain on the Streets - It rains a lot during the Rainy Season. Go figure. I was waiting for the rain to end while drinking some juice in a nice little restaurant.

Different Buildings - I like this picture because of the contrast in the two buildings. The municipal building shows a picture of El Fortin on the corner. The other buildings are run-down houses. It's very common in Latin America to see these kinds of contrasts, I think.

Pretty Mural - Costa Ricans paint lots of pretty murals all over the place. Some of the murals are for private companies and others are public works projects. You can see El Fortin again in this mural.

Thanks MvBlair for informing us about ur adventures in Costa Rica and enlightening us about this wonderful country :) . It seems like a great place to visit!
Would u recommend anyone to go there for a honey moon or it better to go there say for a summer vacation?