Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Settling in

Zarcero, nestled in the Tilarán chain of mountains that runs from SE to NW along the center of Costa Rica, sits around 5,700 feet above sea level.  The town (municipio) of about 4,000 people (counting the surrounding area) is dedicated to agriculture.  They grow onions, carrots, green beans, chayote, ñames, avocados, and countless other crops, and the pueblo is decidedly middle class.  The streets are paved and steep, and there are lots of fine houses--and a paucity of the verjas, or iron bars, one usually finds covering all entrances and exits of most houses in Costa Rica.  That was one of the reasons why we chose Zarcero for our adventure, it is safe and secure and you don't have to live in a cage to feel secure.

The people are industrious, charitable, and kind, instantly becoming your friends from the first conversation.  The kids have been accepted willingly at the school, and their teachers are caring and hard-working.  Their classmates are grateful for help in English class.  Marley knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.  She is the laziest language learner, but she is adjusting well socially, which is an important part of 2nd-language acquisition, but I cringe when I see boys checking her out; she's still my little baby girl and I know what they're thinking and I want to.....breathe, Mac.

Jack is Jack.  He is our odd duck, and we love him.  He's not doing anything abnormal for him, but he's still our highly-active, emotional, recalcitrant-in-the-face-of-new-food little boy.  He has decided to be terrified of dogs, so going for a walk her is an adventure with him in tow.

Calliope is worshipped as a tiny muñeca (doll) by all who see her.  She cannot go anywhere without people fawning all over her blue eyes, blond hair, and fair skin. She is quickly learning words, and will be the first of the three to speak Spanish.  
The hotel we've rented out sits on the main town square, in front of the famous cypress (cipreses) topiaries where all the tourists stop to take photos.  We can walk to everything we need, so we don't have a car.  But, if we want to leave Zarcero, we're finding that it's very expensive to take a taxi these days, and with five of us, the bus isn't as affordable an option as I thought it would be.

The cost of living here is absolutely insane.  Food costs 2-3x what it does in the States.  A kilo of rice back home is about a dollar.  Here, it's two to two-and-a-half dollars.  A 2-liter of Coke Zero is over $3 here.  An avocado, which grows on trees I can see from our windows here costs about $1.50.  Our planned budget of $700 per month for food is laughable.  We're spending a lot more, and we're not eating out.  In fact, it might be cheaper to eat out if we only ate casados (a typical meal of rice, beans, plantains, picadillo, and a meat).  Ticos (ticos is what Costa Ricans call themselves) earn 1/4th of what we make in the States.  The cost of labor is ridiculously cheap, but goods are more than they are at home.  We paid someone $20 to make us a pleated skirt, two pairs of shorts, and two dress shirts.  $4 per garment, from cloth without a pattern.

The weather is dry, windy, and cool.  It's gotten above 80F once since we've been here, but one night it got down to 44.7F with 15 mph winds.  That was a chilly night.  The houses don't have air conditioning or heat (though old ones do have chimneys and fireplaces), and the weather is perfect.  This is verano (Summer), the dry season.  It will most likely not rain at all until April.  When it does start to rain, it will come down with a volume (both of sound and quantity of water) only seen in tornado-generating storms back home, but without the violent winds we experience.

The aduana (customs) people have held a package shipped via Fedex since January 30th.  They keep needing me to fix some line on some form.  It's different every day.  It used to be easier 20 years ago when you knew that they were going to steal about 20% of what was in the package.  At least then it would clear customs quickly.  Now, they kill you with papeleo (endless paperwork), even if they don't steal anything.  If I were down in Alajuela close to the aduana, I'd try and bribe them; that's probably what they're waiting for, but, olvídalo.

Semi tractor-trailers use their engine brakes (Jake brakes) freely here, so our days are punctuated with "BRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" every time the lone redlight changes to red.  At least 10 trucks filled with freshly-cut sugarcane from San Carlos pass by each hour, day and night.  People no longer cut it by hand--too many snakebites and machete injuries--they have gigantic mechanical harvesters.

Unlike my youth, the roads are now in decent shape, rare is the pothole.  However, they are still covered in animals, pedestrians, and other cars, lots and lots of cars everywhere, with no new roads or infrastructure improvements.  Imagine tripling the number of cars on the road in the States in 1994, but building maybe one new road per state.  That's what it's like here now, and the gridlock has led to lots of motorcycles.  Unmuffled, 600cc, motorcycles with drivers who think that 1st gear is all the need.  Last night, I went outside and asked a young man to please move his bike away from the hotel, because it was literally, and I mean literally, rattling every window in the building.  He scoffed, but then I mentioned that I didn't think he knew how to ride the motorcycle and wondered if it might be his or not.  He quickly said, "No, es prestada, pero no me está halando come debería"  (No, it's borrowed, but it's not hauling me like it should), and departed in haste.  I bought a box of foam earplugs so I could try and sleep through the night with all of the automotive bulla (racket) outside.  It worked.

It's 12 miles to church, and it costs us $24 each way.  The bishop's wife was a missionary here with me, and they've given us a standing invitation to lunch at their house when we come to church.  The house is amazing and has a view like few houses I've ever been in.  Check it out:

I'll write more next week or this weekend.  I've got a lot to write this week on the article on Jorge Luis Borges and Judas Iscariot I'm working on.


Ryan Stout said...

Which Hermana?

Anonymous said...

Marnie (nee Smith) Meredith

Alberto Quero said...

Dear friend:
I have just discovered your blog and i would like to contribute somehow. I first saw your translation of a short story by Julio Cortázar. Being a huge fan, I have been unsuccessfully looking for English translations of "Un tal Lucas". I also love translating. being Venezuelan (nobody is perfect) and having studied literature at the University of Zulia (nobody is perfect again)I am really interested in this matters.
Feel free to contact me at ajquero175@gmail.com

Best regards,
Dr. Alberto Quero