Letters From Exile

...Scott Bidstrup's Life And Living In Costa Rica

Mon, May 31 2004

Beautiful Weather Continues

What is it with this "rainy" season? This is the fifth day running of really nice weather. The really big thunderstorm that was supposed to happen last week never did, and instead, it heralded the beginning of a stretch of really nice weather - which shows to go ya, the difficulty of trying to predict tropical weather. Two nights ago, there was a mild thunderstorm that came through, but it had a lot of lightning, so I had to shut everything down and disconnect the power for the duration. But that is the only significant rain for nearly a week. If it continues like this, I may have to irrigate. There are parts of the garden that are starting to get a bit dry.

As I sat out on the front porch drinking my morning tea, I heard a loud thunk coming from inside the house. On investigation, it proved to be an enormous red squirrel, that darned macadamia thief that has robbed me of nearly my entire crop of macadamias. There he was, on the security grate of the dining room window, looking in at me as if I didn't belong here and he wanted to know why I was hanging around. I walked up to the window, and he didn't even flinch. Instead, he moved a bit closer for a better look. Bold little bugger - he seemed to be quite unconcerned about the fact that I am at least ten times his size. Soon, he was off into the garden, though, doubtless heading for the macadamia trees to see if there are any more nuts he can steal from me. He's extremely wasteful. He'll eat the husk (apparently likes it, in spite of its extreme astringency), and then will chew through the shell and eat about half of the nutmeat. I wonder if he does that just to annoy me.

I just went out there and had a look, and the crop is pretty much gone. Not a nut left on the tree that I can see. Oh well - guess I will have to be a bit more prepared next year to gather them daily, ahead of the squirrels, and use a device I have dreamed up to sequester them away where the squirrels can't get to them before I do. Haven't looked at the trees on the other side of the pond to see how they are doing, but two weeks ago when I checked, they were dropping their nuts too, so they are probably pretty much finished as well.

I tried my first dried, but raw macadamias this morning. I have had a small handful drying for several days, and I decided to open them up this morning and see how they are un-roasted. I discovered that the shells are every bit as hard to open as I had heard - they took quite a good whack with the hammer to even crack, much less open. After some effort, I finally got in, but discovered that I had dried them excessively, and the nutmeats where shriveled to almost nothing. I tried eating them anyway, and found them to be quite delicious - a taste similar to coconut. Which has inspired me to experiment with some of my coconut - drying and roasting it in a manner similar to the usual method of preparing macadamias, which, when fresh off the tree, are very similar in flavor, color and texture to fresh coconut.

Out in the garden, the pejibaye palm is in bloom again. They have a really interesting inflorescence. It starts out as a baseball bat -like affair, similar to a lot of other palms, but short and fat. But when it is ready, the club-like thing bends down till it is almost horizonal, and the splits open along the bottom, dropping the inflorescence out to hang down. But the sheath remains in place and opens up wide, forming a sort of umbrella, so insects can come by and work the flowers even in a driving rain (they're native to the rain forest of the Amazon). And it attracts a swarm of bees, though it is up high (40 feet up), so they aren't a bother. The adaptability of evolutionary nature is truly amazing.

The other pejibaye cluster, that resulted from the blossom that happened when I was moving in, is coming along fine. The fruit is full-sized, but still quite green. I am told that they take a long, long time to ripen, so I guess if I want any pejibaye anytime soon, I'll have to buy it in the market. Since you Americans and most of you Europeans have never eaten pejibaye, I will have to describe it to you - it is a dry, starchy vegetable-like fruit, similar in color and texture to winter squash, but with a lot more flavor. The fruit is the size of a golf ball, and contains a large, hard seed, but the flesh dry and soft, like boiled potatoes, and is usually eaten with a bit of mayonnaise. It is considered to be quite a delicacy here. It requires some preparation - the fruit has to be boiled in salt water for a couple of hours before it is edible, but it is worth the effort.

Once I get the pejibaye fruit down, I am going to dry some of the seed and plant it on the north side of the pond where it is better sheltered. Pejibaye palms don't like a lot of wind, and mine is in just about the windiest spot on my property. They are also good for palmito (heart of palm), since, unlike most palms, they'll re-sprout from the roots if the candela (growth bud) is destroyed. So I can plant lots and enjoy both, so it would be nice to have some mature trees for the fruit, and some small clumps for palmito. It is truly a versatile tree - the trunk is the only palm wood that is hard and dense and insect resistant enough to be useful. And hard it is, though it is densely covered in small, sharp spines that must be removed before it can be handled, and the numerous woodpeckers around here love them, too, rendering much of the log rather useless as lumber.

Today is laundry day - I am just about out of clean shirts, so I have to get some washed and drying on the line, so they will be dry when I need a fresh shirt tomorrow morning. That will occupy this morning, and this afternoon, I have to go to Tilaran and see if I can get in to see my lawyer about a couple of matters. I also need a few things from the supermarket, and stop at ICE to check on my electricity account and find out why I am not getting a factura (invoice). If the weather is still nice when I head out, I think I'll take my camera and tripod with me, and see if I can get a late afternoon shot of the volcano seen from behind the lake. There are several locations along the route where nice shots should be possible, and if the weather cooperates, it would make a nice wallpaper shot for my Costa Rica wallpaper web page. I haven't done any landscape photography to speak of since I have been back in the country, and would like to do that.

Tomorrow, I think I'll go to the ferreteria (hardware store) and see if I can get some plastic drain pipe and caps from which to construct a raft. I need to get something built so I can get out on the pond and service the overflow. There is a large weed growing on it, and I want to get it removed before it grows big enough to become difficult to pull out and/or block the flow of water. I also need to measure it for the cover I am planning to make for it, and measure the depth of water around it, so I know how deep to make the skirt for it. Lots to do to keep the retired folks busy.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:18:57 AM

Sun, May 30 2004

Giving Birth Today

That headline got you hooked, didn't it? Well, this cowboy ain't giving birth to a kid anytime soon, but I did finally give birth to my newest essay, a book review that deals with that cult classic book, "The Sovereign Individual," a book that has influence far out of proportion to its actual merit. But it nevertheless deserves a review, simply because of its wide acceptance by the political right. I was lent a copy to read, and was astonished as I began reading it, as to its careful use of half-truths and leading its readers on with incomplete information. I needed to get the book back to its owner, and so I worked hard, all day yesterday, getting the essay written and checked. I took the book back to its owner this morning, and then returned to the house and spent most of the day creating and debugging the HTML tags so the text of what I had written would work as a web page. Finally got it done early in the afternoon, and so I got the web page FTP'ed to the server, along with a new index page that refers to it. So a new web essay is born. Glad to have it done - it has been weighing on me for several months.

Friday, I finally took on the leaking toilet issue. I wasn't sure if the fill valve would completely shut off if the flapper wasn't leaking and allowed the tank to completely fill, but the flapper was leaking badly enough that I had to finally take it on. I went to the ferreteria (hardware store) and got what looked like the right flapper. Turns out it was a perfect fit. It still leaks, but only very slightly - takes a half-hour to cycle now. I think I can fix it by getting some fine sandpaper and sanding down the edge of the valve seat, which has grown a bit rough over the years, and that should put a stop to it. The fill valve, as it turns out, wasn't damaged by all the leaking, and it does in fact shut off completely, so as soon as the flapper valve seat is smoothed down, the toilet will be in good working order finally.

Yesterday was essay day, and I worked hard on that, from morning to night, and this morning as well. In the process, I completely forgot about the need to get some laundry done, so tomorrow, I have to be getting on that one. I also need to go to Tilaran to see my lawyer about a couple of matters, and cancel the RDSI service I ordered last week from ICE. Turns out it just simply won't do what I need, which I was able to figure out only after reading the literature they provided me. The tech hasn't been around anyway, and so I suspect that the order isn't being processed anyway. Not that it would surprise me.

After the big push to get the essay published, finally accomplished early this afternoon, I decided to relax a bit and spend some time in the garden. I noticed a new leafcutter colony getting started, so I got some Omitox out and sprinkled the pellets around the nest. In no time, the ants were picking up the pellets and carrying them into the nest. It is really interesting to watch that process. They're intensely interesting critters to watch, if they are destructive pests. These guys were cutting down some weeds in one of my little ginger gardens, but they would soon be working on the ginger if I gave them the opportunity. So I made sure that they had some easy pickings to haul back to the nest. Take all you like, fellas, and enjoy, courtesy of the management.

It was a beautiful afternoon to spend in the garden. Temperatures were just about perfect, and the flowers, especially the orchids, hibiscus and gardenias were really a joy. The sky was roiling with tropical moisture, boiling up into clouds that gave birth to distant rainbows, but no rain in the garden this afternoon. It was a true delight. I really am getting to enjoy this place. Sure glad I moved here from that cold and windy Los Angeles Sur de San Ramon.

The gardener's prediction that the bamboo we cut last Friday, would quickly be ready to burn is absolutely true. It is tinder-dry already, and quite ready to burn. I am torn between wanting to be rid of it, and the desire to make it into charcoal for use on the garden. Wish I had access to a charcoal kiln, as I would be delighted to be able to use it right now. I am going to have to build one, I am sure, but haven't yet looked around for the materials. I may just throw some old roofing sheets over the pile and use that method. The yield is low, about ten percent, but I have a big source of garden litter to work with, so that really isn't much of a problem.

Yesterday morning, I noticed that there were a couple of teenagers across the pond, on my property, fishing, and ignoring me when they saw me over here on this side of the pond. I went over and talked to them, and they claimed to not know that they were on private property. So I got out the private property signs I bought when I moved here and put them up. We'll see if that keeps the trespass problem down. Since they can walk a couple of hundred yards out to Lake Arenal, where the fishing is better anyway, they shouldn't be that inconvenienced.

I am having a water-quality problem in the pond, too. Since the rainy season has begun, the winds have died down, and the water is not getting turned over like it was. I have noticed that there is a great deal of brown algae growing on the pond bottom and covering a lot of the water weeds. When the water is very calm, patches of it rise to the surface. It carries bubbles, which appear to be methane, evidence of anaerobic decay.

My experience with aquaria tells me that the problem is too much organic material dissolved in the water. That means it is not being degraded by bacterial action quickly enough, and I suspect that the biggest problem is that the water enters the pond at the surface, and the overflow draws it off at the surface as well. This means that when the wind isn't turning the water over, it doesn't get stirred up and changed out, so the lower strata exhaust their oxygen supply, and anaerobic conditions set in.

I have hatched a plan to fix the problem, at least as best I can. Since I need to build and install a cover for the overflow anyway, I am going to construct it so that the overflow water has to be drawn from near the bottom of the pond. That means that when the rains are bringing in a lot of water into the pond, it will force a fairly rapid turnover of the water. I don't want to take the water right from the bottom, because I am hoping to use that bottom water as a source of cool water for air conditioning the house during the summer months. So I figure I'll take it from about two-thirds of the way down. That should be enough to reduce the concentration of dissolved organics significantly. I am also planning to filter the water that enters the pond from the street runoff. It carries a lot of suspended sediments, some fine sand, but mostly clay, into the pond, and that stains the water an ugly and persistent tan color. The plan there is to build a large sand filter as part of the water garden I am planning, so that the clay gets filtered out before it enters the pond. The two measures should clean up the pond a great deal, and make it much more pleasant to look at and swim in - and improve the quality and quantity of the fish in it.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:42:45 PM

Fri, May 28 2004

Bamboo Removal Day

Well, today is the day I got rid of that darned bamboo. Once the gardener was finished with cutting the grass, I asked him to cut down the bamboo. He chopped it down and cut it up while I hauled it off to the leaf litter pile. It took an hour to get it all cut down and hauled away. The poles were as much as thirty feet long, and in most cases. had to be cut in three pieces to be moved, and that took a bit of doing. Once down, we put some diesel fuel on the stumps kill them and to discourage regrowth. That made quite a mess of my pineapple patch, and so I had to clean it up and replant a couple of plants that got scattered around.

The gardner was telling me that a bamboo clump of that size (and it was a relatively small clump) will send out roots to a distance of forty or fifty feet or more. He told me to not be too surprised to see shoots coming up in odd places. When I do, I am to cut them down and put diesel on the stumps

I am rather glad to have it out of there. Besides being a constant source of a lot of leaf litter, it was crowding out one of my broad-canopy native fruit trees, a really beautiful tree I cherish and want to encourage. The bamboo was also getting large enough that some of the poles could come down in a high wind, doing a lot of damage, considering where it was growing. I think it had been planted where it was as an erosion control measure, but the clump was too small to be of much value in that regard, and the wrong species in any event, and since it was creating other problems, I felt the time had come to be rid of it. So down it came.

The leaf litter pile is now about 15 feet high and 20 feet across, and half of it is that bamboo. My gardener tells me that if I choose to burn it, it will be sufficiently dry in about three days to go up like gasoline. Well, I am going to try figuring out a way to turn it to charcoal and add it to the soil near some of my bananas and fruit trees that aren't producing well. I am hoping to improve the soil fertility here, as it badly needs it. At least I will have gained something from all that bamboo and the nuisance it had created.

Once it was out of there, I noticed that I now had a privacy screen issue. My giant red ginger needed some pruning, as its baby plants, growing in the flower bundles on the ends of the leaf stalks, were getting quite large and in a couple of cases, were weighting down the stalks and planting themselves in the snakeroot garden in the front of the ginger. I had to do something about that anyway, so I cut down those branches of the ginger, and planted the babies in strategic spots so they will grow up and give me privacy from my neighbors. That ginger grows fairly quickly, so I expect in a few weeks it will be high enough to have done the trick for me. When it is in bloom, the blossoms are spectacular - bright Burgundy red, and in bunches nearly two feet long. They should add a lot of color that the bamboo didn't, in a rather drab part of the garden. Digging the holes to plant the ginger was a bit of a challenge, too. What my gardener said about the roots of the bamboo is true - ten feet away from where the clump was, digging was like cutting into sod - just a mass of roots.

Since the bamboo had been holding up the end of my shortwave antenna, I had to move that end. Wasn't be a big deal - that end of the antenna was only about 15 feet off the ground, and moving the end into the fruit tree behind where the bamboo was, got it up another ten feet, and wasn't that hard to do.

My gardener also cut the lawn today. Boy, was I glad to see that lawn get cut! Not that it was all that high - it wasn't - but tall grass is a great breeding ground for mosquitos here. And the grass was just high enough, that with all the recent rains, the mosquitos were getting pretty bad this last week. So with the lawn cut down to a half-inch, they have nowhere to go, and they've all pretty well departed the scene. I saw a few at sunset when I was out on the porch, but that is about it. And so far, none in the house today. Shouldn't be hardly any around tomorrow. Glad to be rid of those little buggers. Mosquitos carry dengue fever, of course, and it is those little Culex mosquitos that hang around mostly at sunrise and sunset that are the worst carriers, so I am rather concerned about that. There was a serious outbreak just 38 clicks away in La Fortuna last year, with several hundred people falling ill. So I think that I'll have the gardener cut the lawn twice per month instead of once, as I have been having him do, at least for the duration of the rainy season. With all this rain, once just doesn't get it. Cutting it twice a month might be a bit of overkill, but it is cheap health insurance at about $8 per cut.

Had another visit yesterday from the bird-eating snake. He seems to have taken up residence around here. I found him up in a small tree, hiding behind a flycatcher nest, and every time the birds would come by, he'd take a lunge at them, but of course, after the first missed attempt, the birds were quite wary and were really squawking rather loudly about it. Fascinating to watch. But he never was successful, and eventually gave up. He crawled through the trees to the house, and along the raingutter until he finally decided that the eaves were too enticing to pass up, and he crawled through the corrugated end of a roofing sheet and into the attic. I wasn't too worried about it, because he is a harmless fellow, and I knew there was no way he could end up inside the house, and would eventually have to crawl out. And sure enough, about sunset, I heard a loud thunk on the patio, and there he was, crawling off of the picnic table and beating a hasty retreat into the garden.

And today, I had an iguana in the garden, too. I think it was probably the same one I saw before - it was gaudy green and about four feet long, the same size and color. Didn't get a good look, as soon as he saw me, he took off into the heliconias beside the pond. Seems like the wildlife around here is getting pretty wild. Well, of course that shouldn't surprise me. It is, after all, a jungle out there. At least across the road.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:04:24 PM

Thu, May 27 2004

Macadamia Season Has Arrived

For you Californians who think that macadamia season is in the fall, well, that may be the case, but not here. I have five large macadamia trees, and they are already starting to drop their nuts. Apparently here, the season synchronizes with the rains. I knew that you wait till they fall to the ground and collect them from the ground, but beyond that, I did not know anything about processing them, so I figured I had better look it up on the net and find out what to do.

They are very labor intensive to do by hand - the first step is to remove the husks, and that often has to be done by hand, one nut at a time if you don't have the machinery to do it, which I don't, of course. After that, you have to dry the nuts for several days, over a very low heat (about 100 degrees) until they are as dry as you can get them. You have to be careful not to heat them too much, or they will stick to the shell, and be impossible to remove. After being dried, they then must have the shells removed as soon as possible, because if that is not done, they will reabsorb the moisture that has been so carefully removed, and will spoil. Once down to the dried nutmeats, they are then frozen until they are ready to be used. They are roasted just before use - the oils in them will rancidify very quickly, and they must be used within a few days of roasting. Fortunately, roasting is simple and easy to do, and can be done in the microwave. The one part of the process I haven't figured out is a good, easy way of shelling them.

Apparently, the best way to keep them is to freeze the dried and shelled but unroasted nutmeats in the freezer. They´ll keep for up to five years that way. They can be eaten unroasted or roasted, but the latter are more flavorful. Unroasted, the taste is somewhat reminiscent of coconuts.

Now, I have to figure out how I can harvest them, keeping them out of the hands of the squirrels, who love to eat the husk, then bite into them and eat just a portion of the nutmeat, leaving the rest scattered around on the ground, making a mess. Since they can't be picked, but have to be allowed to fall, I think I may get some greenhouse netting and set up an arrangement under the tree that will allow them to fall into the netting and then roll into a collecting jar. Hopefully, that will keep a few out of the hands of the squirrels, which just love the darned things.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:37:18 PM

Bracing For The Storm

Well, about half of the moisture that just got done pounding Hispaniola has been heading here for the last two days, and it is about to arrive. In looking at the latest satellite infrared loop, it is apparent that there is a huge - and violent - thunderstorm cell building just off the coast of Limon, and is headed for the area of the Nica border, just a few dozen miles north of here. This could get serious. If it heads this way, this is the highest terrain it will encounter - and that means it will dump serious amounts of moisture here. I've been waiting for a good rip-snorting downpour since I got the roof fixed, so I could see if I have all the holes patched that need it - and I guess I won't have long to wait. It has already started a slow, steady rain, and over the last couple of hours, the rain has been gradually increasing in strength. It will be interesting indeed to see if we get the torrential downpour that the satellite images show to be heading our direction.

Well, I am stuck inside for the day, it looks like, and that means getting some work done on the computer, answering emails and continuing the work on a new essay I am writing.

I did brave the rain long enough to take a couple of cuttings of the bouganvilleas that is growing out front of my house. They are not doing terribly well, since the tenant had kept them badly over-pruned, to the point of almost killing them, but they have enough healthy new growth on them since I have lived here that I felt I could take some small cuttings. They are a truly beautiful variety. When the blossoms emerge, they are a bright orange, but fade to a fuscia pink, and that means that there is always a variety of color on the same bush. There are also some other bouganvillea varieties that I would like to get cuttings of as well - lilac blues, deep purples, scarlet reds and even one that is almost white, but with a hint of fuscia. I have never seen so many beautiful varieties of bouganvillea as I have in this country. It is truly awesome. Up north in Phoenix, where I used to live, the city is famous for its bouganvilleas, and it has lots, but you see nearly always the same, or nearly the same color. Here, it is quite different, and the variety is truly astounding. I think I am going to start collecting them. They are incredibly showy - a mass of bright color that is truly eyecatching. The only real problem with them is that they are messy, dropping the blossoms in huge quantities. My gardener is going to hate me.

Before you California and Arizona gardeners write to warn me that I can't root bouganvilleas from cuttings, I will point out that rooting cuttings is the normal method for propagating them here. Our weather is so mild, and the air so humid so much of the time, with frequent drizzles, that just sticking a cutting in a pot of soil and setting it out back is usually sufficient to root just about anything here, bouganvillea or just about anything else. So I have been busy doing just that - rooting cuttings in the little boxes my coffee cream comes in. Every time I empty a box, it gets a cutting placed in it. I have a half dozen or so right now, and expect to have enough to do the job in a few weeks, and so far, only one cutting has wilted. But I also need to get some cuttings of other varieties - for all the flowers in my garden, bouganvilleas are represented by a single variety.

I have a plan. I want to grow a long line of bouganvilleas along my fence, from near the driveway to the property line near the west end of the pond. I hope to end up with a solid, tightly packed, unbroken row of bright color. Aside from the beauty, why would I want to do something like that? It is really quite simple. Bouganvilleas are thorny. Very thorny. So planting them in a dense mass all along the fence will do two things - give me privacy and at the same time, enhance the security of the four-wire barbed wire fence that runs along that stretch of my property line. I have a problem with it. Besides its appearance, which doesn't exactly enhance the beauty of the place, it is also not sufficiently secure - I have caught small children crawling under it to get down to the pond to play, without anyone supervising them, and the thought of that scares me. So I figure that a dense screen of bouganvilleas will keep them out. I can propagate the one variety that I have, or I can get some cuttings of more varieties and plant a variety all along the fence. I would like to do the latter - I would like to have a wide variety of colors to add interest to the long line of bouganvilleas. If I have to keep people out, at least I would like to please their eyes.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:11:11 AM

Wed, May 26 2004

The Gold of El Dorado

Today started out another bright, sunny day after a night of crystal clear skies, and a light-show of stars without equal. One of the beauties of living in a small village like this is that the night skies are unpolluted by a myriad of light sources. So a look up into the heavens reveals the Milky Way and the vast array of stars that surrounds it. Another beautiful day in paradise, so I figured it was another day too good to pass up for doing some gardening. I´d best enjoy it - the meteorological office says it is not going to last. We are going to get hit with the rain that pounded Hispanola.

I was fairly late getting out there, and by the time I did, it had clouded over enough to make working pleasant, without any rain, so I went to work removing the stem of the banana plant whose bunch my gardener had cut down and I had recently enjoyed. Bananas will only flower once, so once it has produced its bunch, it had just as well be cut down, unless it has some daughter plants that could use the energy. This one had two well-developed daughter plants, neither of which would benefit much from the parent plant, and the parent plant was pretty much dead anyway. So I cut it down.

In spite of their appearance, banana plants are not trees. They are actually herbaceous plants, and so when you cut down the "log," you are really cutting down the wet, even waterlogged, stem of a plant. I hacked away at the base of it with my machete, and in spite of my dull knife (I really need to remember to get a machete file), it soon came crashing down. I cut it into three pieces, each just barely manageable, and hauled them off to the enormous and rapidly growing leaf-litter pile, and each dribbling water and sap onto my T-shirt.

That was tiring enough, so I went over to the patio and sat to rest in one of the chairs. Looking around, I noticed that the cut-leaf philodendron that someone had planted next to the house years ago had grown all the way up to the eaves, and the roots were growing under the paint and peeling it off. This was an issue I needed to deal with.

Cut-leaf philodenderon (Monstera deliciosa) is a beautiful, if room-hogging plant when grown outdoors here, and it produces a delicious, edible fruit, so there was no way I was simply going to cut it down and discard it. The leaves on it were enormous and quite attractive - almost four feet across and dark green, with their distinctive holes and splits. I have seen them growing up tree trunks of large trees in botanical gardens, and they make a beautiful way to hide an otherwise rather ugly tree trunk. Since I have a mango tree with a rather large garden of lilies-of-the-nile surrounding it, I figured that planting it there would cover the tree trunk, and it would have adequate room and still not crowd out the lilies. I cut off the top two feet of the trunk of the Monstera, pulled it away from the wall (and it took a lot of that hideous blue paint with it), and planted it next to the trunk of the mango. I must say that it looks very nice there - certainly a better place than where it was - and it should do better there, since it is finally out of the direct sun, which it does not much like. It should not take long for it to root out and start to grow - that is one of the beauties of gardening with aroids. They are generally very easy to start from cuttings, even the stem of a single leaf will often take root and grow. I cut the rest of the stem into two pieces, and planted them in a fairly dark area where they can spread out and give me a bit of privacy screen from my neighbor's yard.

I took a look at the caladiums that I transplanted yesterday, and they are all doing fine, including the exotic one I got from the roadside. They all seem to like their new home, and none of them even show any evidence of transplant shock. The red-veined caladium is even putting out a new leaf and a blossom that wasn't there when I transplanted it yesterday. I think they will be fine in their new home, and will certainly look nice there.

Yesterday evening, just at sunset, I used the last of the light to start cutting down the bamboo grove I want to get rid of in what will be the water garden. I managed to cut three of the larger poles down with my dull machete, chopped them up and put them on the garden refuse pile. That proved to be hard work, and I think I'll leave the rest of the grove to my gardener to cut when he comes by on Friday - especially since there are a fair number of mosquitos back in that area, and I got chewed up well and truly. I do want to be rid of the bamboo, however, so I can get my shortwave antenna up in the tree behind the bamboo grove, and also plant some ginger where that grove is now. My giant red ginger has some nice baby plants growing that are ready for transplanting, and I would like to get with that, so I can clean out that ginger grove and get rid of their huge leaves that are starting to die.

All of this cutting and chopping is adding considerably to the pile of garden refuse that is growing down by the pond. It is now about eight feet high and ten feet across - really getting out of hand. My gardener told me to get a plastic tarp and put over it so it can dry out and be burned. But I have other ideas.

A few months back, I saw a special on the Discovery Channel about a unique situation in the Amazon basin. In a region known for soils so poor that they can hardly grow anything non-native at all without a lot of fertilizer, and even then, not a crop worth bothering with, there are certain areas with extremely fertile soil that has been a mystery to soil scientists for a long time. Only recently, however, did anyone make a serious effort at determining why these areas, called "piedra negra" or black earth, were so abundantly fertile that the soil is actually mined and exported, even though the areas surrounding them were some of the poorest soils on the planet. None of it made sense.

It seems that when the first conquistador from Spain sailed up the Amazon river in the early 16th century, he returned reporting that he had seen great cities, wealthy beyond description, markets filled with an abundance of agricultural goods and commodities, and the inhabitants wore an abundance of gold jewelry. It was a place he called El Dorado - the golden place. Well, no one went back for about 80 years, and when they did, they did not find any such cities. All they found was unbroken jungle, with just a few poor aboriginals living off the land as hunter-gatherers. The accounts of the original conquistador were dismissed as fantasies and inventions. The Spanish quickly abandoned the harsh and difficult Amazon as a place not worth bothering with.

Well, it turns out the "fantasies" weren't fantasies after all. Wherever this "piedra negra" is found, there is also found an abundance of clay pot fragments, often making up as much as ten percent of the soil volume. When anthropologists began to survey this "piedra negra" for artifacts to determine human population densities at these sites, they were stunned to realize that the soil must have supported a huge population - at least three million, more people than had been thought to live in the entire Western Hemisphere prior to Columbus. In the Amazon Basin? With its incredibly thin, poor soils? How could this be?

Realizing that the key to the mystery had to be the incredible fertility of the "piedra negra," the scientists turned to soil fertility specialists to determine why it was so fertile. At first, the analysis didn't turn up anything interesting - mineralogically, it was identical to the thin yellow clay in the surrounding jungle, which was notoriously infertile. But then they noticed something odd - where the soil was fertile, it was black, and it was black because it had an enormously high content of finely powdered charcoal. As much as thirty percent of the soil volume was charcoal powder. Could this be the secret of the fertility?

To find out, they did some experiments. They planted millet in three plots of typical Amazonian yellow clay soil from which all the Amazon jungle vegetation had been carefully removed. The first plot was the control plot - unaltered. The second plot was fertilized with standard agricultural fertilizers in the normal amounts. And the third plot had powdered charcoal added and mixed in, until it was a significant portion of the soil volume. The results were astounding. In the first plot, only a single plant grew, and it failed to mature and flower. In the second, a small crop grew, stunted, and producing very poorly. But in the third, the crop grew abundantly, chest high, and lush with seed. The scientists were able to determine that a community of bacteria grew in association with the plant roots, which freed mineral trapped in the charcoal, and made it available to the plant roots. In the absence of the bacteria, the charcoal would adsorb mineral salts on the surface of its particles and hold it trapped for centuries, waiting for bacteria to release it for the use of plant roots. Clearly, the secret to soil fertility in the tropics had been discovered, and it had apparently been known to the aboriginal inhabitants of the Amazon basin for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. Why, then, were there no great cities when the Spanish got around to returning? Because the first conquistador brought with him European diseases, to which the aboriginals were not immune, and the population quickly crashed and crashed so low that the agricultural system collapsed and could not be revived. The remaining population quickly went back to hunting and gathering, and the jungle soon reclaimed the villages and settlements, leaving no trace for the Spanish to find on their next visit, eighty years later.

So the knowledge of how to create and maintain the fertility of tropical soils was the real gold of El Dorado. It is the use of a large volume of finely divided charcoal mixed in with the clay soils, which entraps mineral ions percolating through the soil, holding onto them and making them available for plant roots.

There is an added environmental benefit, too, that the program didn't talk about. As charcoal is made and added to soils throughout the tropics, huge amounts of carbon would be removed from the atmosphere and sequestered in the ground - where, instead of adding to the global warming problem, it would instead help feed millions. It would seem to me that this is something that the NGO's around the world who are concerned with global warming as well as tropical agriculture, should be coming together to help solve two problems at once - a dwindling supply of arable land along with a growing carbon-dioxide pollution of the atmosphere. And giving farmers an incentive to do this (since it would mean an independence from chemical fertilizers), they would take it up with zeal if they could see the benefits.

And that is what I am going to discuss with my gardener this Friday when he comes around. I want to explore the possibilities of building a charcoal kiln, turning this ever-growing pile of garden waste into charcoal, and adding it to the soil here as a topical application of slurry, letting the soil organisms work it in. If it works as advertised, my thin, poor, typically infertile soil so typical of the tropics, may soon become a rich source of abundant growth, feeding me, delighting my eye, and proving the wisdom of the lost aboriginals of El Dorado. And I will of course, be enjoying the real gold of El Dorado.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:28:46 PM

Tue, May 25 2004

A Serpent In The Garden Of Eden

Today I woke up to a bright sunny day. It was a bit startling to see such bright sunshine after almost two straight weeks of cloudy weather, with no more than an hour's sunshine at a time during that period. So it was just too nice a day to pass up. I decided that today would be a good day to do some work in the garden, and take in some of that delightful sunshine with the moderate rainy-season temperatures.

I went to work cleaning out the weeds in some of my epiphyte gardens, mostly the ones growing on the trunks of the ancient old mango trees that are scattered around the place. One epiphyte garden in particular had been bugging me - it was in need of some serious attention and careful weeding and pruning, so I went right to work on it.

No sooner had I gotten really into it, and got it looking half-way nice, than I got bitten well and truly by a large red ant of a species I had not noticed before. Apparently these guys make their homes in such epiphyte gardens and take serious exception to anyone molesting their nests. Well, it hurt mightily, and still does, an hour later, at least to some degree, and it left a welt the size of a quarter. Needless to say, I proceeded to finish my weeding and pruning with considerable care.

In hauling debris to the garbage pile, I came across the first snake I have seen in my garden since I have been living here. It was olive green with faded yellow scales and a yellow belly behind the head, and about three feet long. When it saw me, it froze and tried, I suppose, to blend into the grass that it was crawling through. Not a very successful ruse, as the grass is fairly short. I looked it up in my reptile book and found it was a "bird-eating snake," a non-venomous, harmless snake that specializes in hiding in trees and ambushing birds coming back to their nests. Most of the snakes here are non-venomous, and are harmless and often quite interesting, in spite of the fact that there are a few bad actors, like the fer-de-lance, that make up for the rest. The only other snake I have seen in the country since I have been here was also non-venomous. It proved to be a snake-eating snake. Other than the ubiquitous Central American whiptail lizards which I see maybe once a month or so, and the rather dramatic green iguana I saw in my garden a few weeks ago, this is the only reptile I have seen here at this house.

I got all of my epiphyte gardens cleaned up, and in spite of the bright, sunny weather, managed to get my feet sopping wet, mostly from dumping giant bromiliads that I needed to get rid of. They maintain their own water supply, deep in side the center, and can hold a quart or more of rather muddy water, often with tree frogs or water spiders. I now know why my gardener always wears his rubber boots when working in my garden.

I transplanted some caladiums from where they are growing wild near the pond, and out where their bright red-veined leaves can add some color to the path down to the dock. To set off the red color, I also transplanted some white-leaved caladiums from where they were growing wild in my compost heap. That proved to be a mistake - there is apparently a huge colony of carpenter ants working over that pile of leaves and branches, and no sooner had I reached in to pull the tubers out of the leaves, than I got nailed well and truly, three times, almost instantly. I am beginning to believe that organic gardening here can be hazardous to one's health - one would be well advised to wear heavy gloves when working with compost, at least. But soon, they were planted alongside the stairway, and if they take and grow well (and they should - it is wet and shady there), it will make quite an attractive addition to the pathway.

I have also got to start looking for some flagstone to pave that pathway, which right now, is just bare mud. Once I have some, I'll get them set in place, with some moss and ferns around them to add some interest to that little pathway. It will change an ugly mess into something quite attractive.

Some time ago, I found a patch of some rather attractive aroids growing next to the right-of-way fence along the road across from my property on the edge of the jungle. I went back today to see if there were any growing in the road, which makes it quite legal to collect them - and as luck would have it, I found one small patch growing in the road next to the fence. I went and got my shovel, dug it up and brought it back to plant my garden. It is quite an attractive plant - dark, green leaves similar is size and shape to caladiums, but with a dozen or so large, angular white splotches on them. I planted it on the other side of the pathway from the caladiums, where the leaf coloration will make a nice contrast, with the leaf shape harmonizing. I hope it survives the move - it was the only clump growing on the public side of the fence, and if it doesn't make it, I'm sunk.

Well, I guess I'll get back out there and get to doing some more work. I have lots to keep me busy, that's for sure. But I don't know how long I will be at it, since it is starting to cloud over and may be building to an afternoon rain. Not that such would surprise me. There is a huge low-pressure area bringing record rains and flooding to the island of Hispanola - the BBC is saying it has killed 250 people so far - and if that low-pressure area gets caught up in the trade wind system, it will surely be raining here in a few days, well and truly.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:53:42 AM

Mon, May 24 2004

Three Inches High And Poor Man's Pest Control

Well, I am pleased to report that all of the coleus plants that I have planted a week and a half ago in the flowerboxes in front of the house are doing well. They are all seedlings that I transplanted from the garden, seedlings that were mostly tiny, about a half-inch high when I moved them. I was afraid that they would not make it, but all of them have done fine, with the exception of three that were nailed by insects. I have no idea what was eating them, but all the more attractive seedlings are doing fine. They are growing remarkably fast, as things do in this climate, and most of them are now about three inches high and growing fast. I just need to keep them watered, as the rain doesn't seem to get into the flowerboxes much, at least not enough to keep flowers in them growing well.

The ceiling is all put back together, finally. I found a piece of half-inch plastic electrical conduit up in the attic, and it gave me an idea. I got another bag of Volatan powder from the feed store this morning, that all-purpose insecticide that gardeners use here when they don't know what else is better. I figured the conduit offered a good way to get some insecticide powder into the areas where I need it to keep the carpenter ant infestation down, so that is exactly what I did. I filled one end of the conduit with the Volatan powder, and took it up into the attic and then, when I had the conduit positioned over the spot where I wanted to deliver the powder, I blew hard into the other end, sending the powder out in a big cloud around the area of the infestation. I did that over the area of the partition between the bedrooms, and the outside wall near the kitchen. Hope that is all the infestations I have up there. I have no idea how vulnerable the carpenter ants are to that stuff (I know it is often used for control of other species), but it can't do any harm up there, so I figured it is worth trying.

After that little exercise in poor man's pest control, I figured the time had come to put the ceiling back together. I removed the old brads and got out the brads that I bought this morning at the ferreteria (hardware store), and went to work. I quickly ran into a problem. The wood has hardened sufficiently in the years the ceiling has been up, and periodically been getting wet, that driving a nail in it was hard to do. Pounding harder to get the brads in, simply deflected the ceiling that much more. So after struggling to get one tile back up, and making a bit of a mess of it, I decided that the best way to handle it would be to simply use the holes from the old brads, which I did as best I could. The other two went back up without much problem, but they are a bit mangled from their removal and reinstallation. The white paint on them got chipped enough to reveal some of that horrible blue-green color that the outside walls are painted with - an awful color that clashes violently with the finish of the polished concrete floors - a sort of dark yellow with streaks of burgundy - itself a hideous color. Someone needs to teach some poor hapless Tico somewhere the basics of color coordination.

Not that wrecking the tiles much bothers me; I am planning to raze the ceiling in about six months anyway. So as ugly as the ceiling is, it is not an issue to me at this point. At least it will keep the carpenter ants confined up there in the ceiling with their free lunch of Volatan. Maybe some root-chewing insects in my flowerboxes could use a free lunch, too.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:58:03 PM

Sun, May 23 2004

Getting Laundry Done, Books Read, And Reader Comments On Bugs

Today was a Sunday, and the ferreteria (hardware store) wasn't open, so I couldn't go get a role of duct tape that I need for the temporary repair of a broken pane of window glass that fell out of the window on Saturday afternoon. I am planning to replace the window in a few weeks, so there is no point in replacing the pane. I'll just tape the three pieces together in the frame and call it good for now. As soon as the security grates are re-installed properly so they are truly secure, I plan to get the windows replaced with some modern aluminum frame windows. The existing windows are rather crudely made wooden windows, and need to be replaced. So that will happen as soon as I am ready. I have a bid on doing that work, and it was surprisingly cheap. I am quite pleased with the one window I have replaced already.

About all I really got done today was some laundry. I have been trying to get caught up on my reading, as I need to return several books that have been lent to me, which I have had for quite some time. So the main one I have been trying to get read, "The Sovereign Individual" (James Dale Robertson and Sir William Rees-Mogg) is now behind me. I am going to write an essay in response to this rather popular propaganda screed, which is nothing more than a highly sophisticated defense of elitism and the policies that support it. A lot of people are being taken in by it - It has become something of a cult classic, and I think it desperately needs a good refutation, which I am in the process of writing.

Yesterday, I finally got the rocking chair re-upholstered. It actually turned out better than I expected, and is quite comfortable and looks fine. I did not paint the frame - I don't want it to be too pretty or it will disappear off my front porch. So I figured if I left the rust hanging out, it would not sprout legs. I hope that the fabric holds up. It is the heaviest I could find, roughly as heavy as a light denim, and a cotton-poly blend. If it lasts a year or so, I'll figure it doesn't owe me much. I am into it about $9 for all the materials to do it - foam and fabric - cheaper than replacing it, and since outdoor rocking chairs with upholstery are unknown here, I am pleased to have it. It just happens that the fabric, a dark forest green, is a good color for the perfectly horrible bluish-green color that the house is currently painted in.

The rocking chair is comfortable to sit in for hours at a stretch, which I often do when I am reading. And being the Asperger's patient that I am, I am certainly into rocking chairs and missed it a lot when it was dissembled in my living room, waiting to be re-covered. I really like sitting and rocking in that thing, ugly though it may be.

My gardener was here yesterday, and cut down my second bunch of bananas. The first was delicious, once they finally ripened, and the timing perfect - I had just finished them up. So now, I have a renewed supply. There are two more bunches growing out there, and a third plant that is just coming into blossom. I am still looking for some plantain plants, though. No one seems to grow their own anymore, and so I may have to go to a plantation in La Fortuna to buy some roots. My friend at the botanical garden says that his horses ate all of his, so he is looking for some, too. My gardener says he may be able to buy some from someone he knows.

Meanwhile, my pineapples appear to have taken root and are starting the long growing process. I found out why they are so expensive - a large one sells for 300 colones, about 75 cents U.S. - it turns out that they are fairly slow growing, and I can expect them to take a year and a half to come into production. I also have been wondering why the only variety of coconut palms I see around here are a Malaysian species that produces fairly small coconuts. Turns out that there is a moth in these parts that loves to get into the growth bud and lay its eggs there. And the caterpillar eats the bud, killing the tree. There are only two coconut palms that are immune to this pest - the one I have and a Madagascar species with yellow coconuts. But I am told it is not as good, so I will probably not bother to plant it. I could use another tree or two, though, since the one I have only produces a dozen or so at a time, and they take a long time to mature.

I am also seeing some growth in the coleus plants that I planted in the planters on the front of the house. I was afraid that the diesel fuel that I used to kill the wasp nest out there might have contaminated the soil, but my decision to mix some dishwashing liquid in with the fuel was a good decision. It made the diesel fuel water soluble, and I seem to have succeeded in washing it out of the soil, with little damage to the coleus. They are growing faster than I expected, and are already starting to look like something worthwhile. I would like to find some impatiens cultivars, too, to plant between them, but I suspect I may have to go to the farmers' market in Canas to find any.

Watching BBC World as I write this. They are doing a piece on the high price of gasoline. In case you care, I am currently paying the equivalent of $2.41 per gallon, and that price is regulated and last went up about a month ago. An article in the paper here said that it is now $2.51 per gallon in Nicaragua (unregulated there), and that is high enough that the taxi drivers are considering going on strike unless they get an increase in fares. I don't know what the folks over in Panama are paying, but when I was last there, it was $2.30 to $2.80 a gallon, depending on where you were, and that was four months ago.

I had a comment about all the insect problems in this house from one of my readers. Well, I think I may have made it sound worse than it really is. Other than the fact that these carpenter ants are really king-sized (about three quarters of an inch long), they are not really that big a deal. I have actually had infestations as bad or worse in apartments I have lived in up north in the States. My house, in Nuevo, California, for example, had a constant problem with Argentine ants I was never able to solve, and I have never had such a difficult infestation here. And here, I don't seem to have cockroaches in the house, like I did in several apartments in the States. Cockroaches are ubiquitous in the environment here (I have seen at least six species since I have been living in Costa Rica), and they will show up in the house on rare occasions, but they don't seem to be much inclined to set up shop if the house is properly designed and tightly built. And mine is. I have seen one or two in the house - about the same as in my house in Phoenix - but no evidence of an infestation. There is really no place for them to live - no cabinets (shelving and pot racks instead), no baseboards, etc. So the insect problem really isn't as bad as it sounds. Bugs here are no more numerous nor inclined to set up shop in the house than they are in many places in the States - what is remarkable here is the sheer variety of them. Seems like there is hardly a day goes by that I don't see some new kind of bug I have never seen before. Living right across the street from jungle, as I do, probably accounts for some of that. Speaking of ants, the leafcutters have not been back to visit my Creole oranges. Good deal! I think there is a good chance I have killed the nest of the little blighters.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:06:23 PM

Thu, May 20 2004

DSL False Alarm

Well, today, for a while at least, I figured I was going to get access to DSL. My ham friends went to Tilaran, where one of them was going to the ICE office to apply for a telephone, and came back all enthused about having applied for broadband - he said they were accepting applications for DSL, which he applied for while he was there.

I got all excited and figured I would need to go there to apply, and so I called them on the phone, and they told me that I would have to come in to apply in person.

So I got in my car and drove the 34 kilometers of thoroughly potholed road to Tilaran, in a driving rain. I got to the ICE office and told them what I wanted, and when I got the brochure and read it, it turns out that it was only ISDN, not DSL. I was thoroughly annoyed. When I called my friends, and asked them, they said they knew it was ISDN and denied telling me it was DSL, which I know very well they did, and several times. I don't know what their intent was, but I am rather angry at having been deceived and sent on a two-hour wild goose chase in a driving rain on a badly potholed road.

On close questioning, they are now telling me that they were told at the ICE office that true DSL will not be available here in August (they are saying that August is the availability date for San Jose, not here), and that it would be available here no earlier than December, if it is ever available here at all. So I am back to square one, and worse - looks like I won't have always-on internet in the foreseeable future. Well, after seven months of hauling my laptop to the internet cafe to get my email, I guess I should be grateful for dialup at home.

I went out and checked on the leafcutter ants this afternoon, and didn't see a one. I don't know if it was the weather, the hormigacida (ant-killing pesticide pellets) or whether they have moved on temporarily to some other hapless trees, as I am told they often do. But in any event, there wasn't a leafcutter in sight. I'll keep an eye on it, and if they are still absent in a week, I'll declare victory.

There was another invasion of the carpenter ants in the office/ham shack/second bedroom last night. I noticed that there a lot more around than usual, so I got to investigating and discovered that there was a small hole in the partition between the bedrooms, this one in the second bedroom, along the floor, behind some of my things. I got out the insect spray and killed the ones I could see, and sprayed it up into the hole. That sent them out in a flood - and in minutes, they were everywhere, and coming out yet another opening as well. I sprayed and killed as many as I could, and swept up the carnage and threw it outside. As soon as it slowed down sufficiently, I plugged the holes temporarily, and went to bed. This morning, when I got up, I discovered that they had even been falling out of the open holes in the ceiling where I had removed tiles for the roof repairs. I went to plug the holes in the bedroom permanently, only to discover that my can of polyurethane foam was completely empty. So I mixed up some tile grout and used my finger to stuff it in the holes. Hopefully, that will do the job. At least I haven't seen any for a while.

It has been raining and raining hard all evening. No drips anywhere, nor are there any dripping sounds coming from the attic like there were before I did the roof patching. So I hope I have all the leaks fixed, at least all the ones that matter, and maybe I can put the ceiling back together and get some peace from that project.

Of course, I have started having some problems with the toilet fill valve in the last few days, and the flapper valve has leaked since I have been living here and needs to be changed. So the toilet appears to be the next project I am going to have to take on sooner rather than later.

It is just like Samuel Clemens said - life is just one damn thing after another.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:58:50 PM

Wed, May 19 2004

The Death Of Ants - I Hope

Yesterday's roof patching exercise seems to have done the trick. It rained hard last night, really hard, just pouring down most of the night, and yet there wasn't a drop to be found anywhere in the house this morning. During the heaviest downpour, just before going to bed, I did hear some water dripping occasionally on the ceiling tile, though none of it managed to soak through and drip into the living room. While it was happening, I got out the ladder and climbed up through the hole in the ceiling to have a look and see if I could see where it was coming from. Turns out that it is a leak I did not know about before, but it is in a relatively easy spot to get to. So it won't be hard to fix, it will just mean having to pull another ceiling tile down and crawl up through the hole to do it. But the main leaks, the ones that were causing the most problems, have been fixed, and the patches installed from below seem to have held through the downpour, so I think I am in pretty good shape for now. In the afternoon, once the roof was dry, and just before the afternoon rains began, I took down the ceiling tile and repaired the last known roof leak. There are several other places that appear to get wet at times, but it appears that they are rotten gaskets under the heads of the bolts that hold the roof sheets down, and the only solution for that will be to get on top of the roof and put some tapagotera pasta (asphalt paste for patching roofs) over the bolt heads. None appear to be leaking enough to necessitate having to deal with them immediately.

I did discover that there is a carpenter ant colony in the attic, though, and not the one in the partition between the bedrooms that I already knew about, but one near the outside wall next to the kitchen. It has some soil associated with it, so I suspect that they have come up through the holes inside the cinder block. I did some investigation on the Internet about what to do about them, and it turns out that I already have the right insecticide, Volatan powder, that I got yesterday for the control of some Argentine ants, so I'll sprinkle that around up in there and that should take care of it. I am not really all that worried about their presence, as I intend to replace the roof as well as the trusses and rafters next fall anyway, so even if they do some damage, I doubt there would be a problem before then, when their little home will go away and be replaced by steel, which even they can't chew on.

I got some hormigacida (pesticide bait pellets for ants) yesterday to deal with the leafcutter ants that are rapidly devouring three of my Creole orange trees. It turns out that I wasn't as fast as I should have been in dealing with the problem - I discovered the problem just last Friday. About half of the leaves are gone on two trees, and they are completely gone on another one. The trees will survive and regrow their leaves, but it will probably cost me the crop of oranges that they are currently bearing. I asked for Mirex (which really isn't - Mirex has long since been banned here as well as in the States), but the reformulated product is still called that. I am used to seeing it as little green pellets of alfalfa, infused with permethrin. The feed store didn't have that, but gave me an entirely new product, just recently introduced, and I am interested in seeing how well it works. It was cheap enough - locally made and about a dollar and a half for 500 grams of pellets. Instead of being alfalfa green, these are a light blue, and I couldn't see what the ants would find attractive about them. I was rather skeptical, but the price was right.

Well, I needn't have worried. As soon as they found them, the little blighters started happily carting the bait pellets off to their nest. There's now a hundred-foot long miniature parade of tiny sky-blue pellets being hauled along the fence, across the road, and off into the jungle. Let's just hope that it does some good. I was curious about the active ingredient, 3% sodium orthaborate (the rest is bait), so I looked that up on the net, and found that it is a salt of boron that is most commonly used to pressure-treat wood to prevent fungal rot. Interesting - the strategy with these new pellets would seem to be that they are intended to kill the fungus that the leafcutters grow inside their nests, which is their only known source of nutrition. My concern is whether they will isolate it and see if it will grow the fungus they cultivate before putting it on their main fungus farm - I am told that leafcutter ants do that. But then the active ingredient is apparently water soluble, so if it is in the nest at all, the dampness caused by the rains should cause it to slowly diffuse into the fungus farm and kill it. It will probably take some time to do that, and so I put down some Volatan powder around the trees to keep the leafcutters off of them while the nest is being killed.

Well, I just got back from checking on them. I am amazed at their industry! They had hauled off nearly every pellet I had put down, so I put down what I had left, and will let them haul them back to the nest too, just for good measure. They were actually dropping some of the leaf pieces they had cut, and were picking up the pellets, so whatever bait is in them is something they really like. I checked on the package insert, and indeed, the mode of action is to kill the fungus that they are cultivating in their nest. It doesn't say how long it will take for the ants to starve to death, however. So I expect it may take a week or so, but it will be interesting to see how well the stuff works. Check this space - I'll keep you apprised, gentle readers.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:52:13 AM

Tue, May 18 2004

Weather Not Cooperating

I had sure hoped to get my roof patched today, and be done with all the roof leaks, but it looks like the weather is just not going to cooperate. There has been a steady drizzle all morning long - not enough to leak into the kitchen with the ceiling open as it is, but enough to keep the roof wet. So I am going to just have to wait.

I noticed I have an ant nest being built in my flowerbeds in front of the house, too, and I need to go to the ferreteria (hardware store) and get some pesticide to kill the little blighters. I also need to get some half-inch plastic water pipe for the roof cleaning project, too. And I am out of groceries - nothing left for breakfast, and I am getting low on stuff for dinner, too. Just gotta go do that.

It has been interesting to watch the patterns of response to my web page, now that the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage has been allowed to stand. Now that gays are being properly and truly wed in that state, the conservatives are going ballistic, of course, and so the responses have been interesting to watch. They went from a steady stream of high-school and college kids saying that they found my essay when researching for debates and term papers, to where most of the response is from mostly Bible-believing Christian conservatives, and you can well imagine what they have to say. It is interesting to watch them always bring up points that I already addressed in the essay itself - it is like they didn't even read the essay.

Well, as I write this, the sun is out, and the sidewalks are starting to dry off. Maybe we will get enough sun that I can patch the roof today after all.

My ham friends are running a test this morning. One of them is going up to the property he owns on the Nicaragua border, and he is operating on six meters, seeing how it compares with how he did on the same journey, that time using two meters. So far, the six meter signal is holding up much better. No surprise there, that is what theory would predict. But it will be interesting to see how close to the border we can hear him.

Well, I went out in the garden to look things over while I was waiting for the roof to dry. I noticed that most of the ant colonies that I have poisoned seem to be properly killed off, but I discovered that the leaf-cutter ants have found a couple of my Creole orange trees, and are dissembling them, a quarter of a square inch of leaf at a time. That means I have to get into town to the feed store and get some Mirex (or Voloton, if necessary) to do them in, too. Leafcutters are intensely interesting critters, but they intensely destructive, too. This is the onset of the rainy season, and it is when the insects start new colonies, so I am not surprised at all the insect activity right now.

Well, the rain has started again. The roof is wet, so no patching until it dries again. Almost got it dry enough to do the patching this last time, but not quite. I'll have to wait a little longer. The weather just won't cooperate...

The curtain falls. Time passes. The curtain rises...

It is three in the afternoon now, as I write this. Had a three hour stretch of good weather, and the roof dried out adequately, so I got up in the attic and installed my patches, such as they are, from below, before the threatening weather closed in again. I forced some roofing tar with my finger up into the holes and then put on some tapagotera cinta (aluminum foil roof repair tape with a thick, sticky rubber backing) over that. We'll see if it holds in a good downpour. If it doesn't, I am not out anything other than the effort, and it just means I would have to go with my original plan of getting someone up on the roof to patch from above, as it should properly be done.

In the process of patching the two holes I had already found, I discovered another area that had been wet. When I investigated, it turned out that there was a crack in the roof sheet about a foot long, and so I used the same approach to fix it - forced some asphalt paste into the crack and them put some tapagotera cinta over that from below. Fortunately, it was reachable from the ceiling tile I had already removed. There is yet another hole I found, again left by the roofer, again in the bottom of the corrugation, but it doesn't appear to be leaking there, as it seems to be far enough up under the crown piece to be mostly protected. I'll check it in a good rip-snorter of a downpour and see if it is leaking, and repair it if necessary. Unfortunately, repair of it would require the removal of another ceiling tile. I would just as soon avoid that - the ceiling is going to look bad enough already, as the tiles are old and can't be removed without some significant cosmetic damage.

While waiting for the roof to dry where I needed to patch it, I got the ladder out and climbed up to the roof edge to clean out the channel between the two watersheds, where moss has built up and causing the rainwater to back up and run into the house. I hadn't been to the hardware store yet for some plastic pipe, so I had looked around to see what was on hand, and found a long length of some small iron rod left by the tenant. I bent the end into a hook shape and went up there, with the hose running full tilt to see if I could dislodge the moss and wash it away. After considerable effort and work, I managed to get it all dislodged, and using the hose, washed it down the channel and into the rain gutter where I could reach it. I had just barely enough water flow coming out of the hose for this to work - and had to really make an effort to get the clumps of moss to roll down the channel. Once done, I had about ten pounds of moss, soil and ferns in a pile at the foot of the ladder. No wonder the roof had been leaking there. Not a surprise to me.

My ham friend called me on the telephone from his place near the Nicaragua border. He was able to work my other friend as far as Liberia - about 120 miles - and was quite satisfied with the performance of his crossband repeater system. I wasn't listening to the conversation between them. I had a roof to repair. Now I'm waiting for a good ripsnorter. I want to see if all my effort has borne fruit. If the weather forecast is correct, I shouldn't have long to wait.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:14:54 AM

Mon, May 17 2004

'Pura Vida' Roof Problem

I got some polyurethane spray foam from the ferreteria (hardware store) today, so I could patch the roof from underneath, if the hole required some serious fill. I wanted to be prepared for any contingency if the roof leak proved to be difficult to access. And to figure out how the stuff works, and get used to working with it, since it is a local brand I haven't played with before, I decided to fill some holes around the place that needed filling - gaps in the facia where bugs and other critters could crawl into the attic. I filled that in, and also filled in a gap at the bottom of the partition between the two bedrooms. This partition had been built by the last tenant, and he seems to have been clueless about how things are done differently here - for good reasons.

He built a standard stud wall, same as you would in the States, but covering it with quarter-inch plywood instead of wallboard. I suspect that he had the plywood on hand (it shows evidence of prior use), and decided to use it, instead of spending the money on gypsum wallboard, which is available here. Well, anyway, he built it all up, nice and neat, apparently using stud wood that is not insect resistant, and he left a quarter-inch gap along much of the bottom of the partition. Of course it didn't take long for the carpenter ants to find it. They have been busy in there, and with the onset of the rains, they have been sending out endless flying ants to find sites for new colonies. Well, I have been getting tired of swatting the darn things, so I decided to poison the nest as best I could and then seal up the partition so they couldn't get out, even if they survived the insecticide. So I sprayed the insecticide in the hole and then sealed it up with the polyurethane foam. It produced quite a bit of foam - about a two-inch radius around where it had been sprayed. In an hour it was hardened, so I trimmed the excess, and went on to other projects. We'll see if I have walled up the darned flying ants.

Well, at this point, there weren't any more excuses I could find for not fixing the roof leak, so I got out the ladder and proceeded to take a ceiling tile down, about where I figured the roof leak ought to be. With some effort, I got the plywood tile pulled away from the nail strips, dumping a terrible mess of dead insects, leaves, filth-laden cobwebs and a lot of other dirt onto the floor and the breakfast bar. As soon as I looked up at the roof sheets, I could see the problem - a quarter-inch hole drilled by the roofer, where he thought the nailer should be, but wasn't.

Well, this particular roofer apparently isn't too bright, because he drilled it right in the bottom of a corrugation, not the top - where all the water from about a square foot of roof area had to run across. So of course it leaked. And it has apparently been leaking since the day the roof was installed twenty five years ago. Needless to say, I was stunned that a roofer would leave an obvious problem like that unrepaired. Just goes to show that what everyone has warned me about is true - around here, you have to watch construction workers every minute.

I figured that I should make sure that this was the real problem I have been having, so I figured I would wait until a rainstorm to see if that was were the roof was actually leaking. Sure, I am going to fix it even if it is not, but I wanted to be sure there weren't more and or worse problems before I nailed the ceiling tiles back into place.

I didn't have to wait long. Within minutes, a rainstorm started, and it quickly grew into an intense but brief tropical downpour - just what I needed. As the rain was coming down, I got up into the attic and had a look to see if the suspect hole was the problem. Indeed it was. I looked to see if there were any other drips inside the attic, and found one other problem - a spot that had leaked badly during an intense rainstorm yesterday, but had not leaked previously. The problem there appeared that a joint in a trough between two watersheds was leaking. When the rain let up, I took the ladder outside and checked to see what the problem was with the trough. It turns out that there is a rather considerable buildup of moss and epiphytes growing in the bottom of it, so the moss was simply damming up the water and causing it to back up through the joint. That will be easy to fix with a piece of plastic pipe and a garden hose to wash the moss away. I will also need to spray the epiphytes to kill them and keep them from growing back.

So now, I am just waiting for the rain to stop and the roof to dry out, so I can patch the hole in the roof over the kitchen and clean out the trough. Tomorrow, I will get a piece of half-inch plastic pipe from the ferreteria (hardware store) and attach it to the hose, so I can clean up the trough. And by this time tomorrow, should the weather cooperate, I'll finally have a roof that doesn't leak anymore.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:35:27 PM

Sun, May 16 2004

Sunday Morning And Time To Do Laundry

Not a lot going on, but I thought I would get on and write a blog entry, and get things caught up around here. I'm pretty much caught up on my email, thank goodness. Seems that the huge response I got to the marriage essay has pretty much subsided - gay marriage isn't in the news at the moment - but I am still getting a lot of response to my other essays, particularly with regards to religion and my exile. I don't know for sure what is driving all that traffic, but I suspect that people who found my gay marriage essay have been busy linking to my site, and now it is getting a lot more general traffic than it used to. I used to get three or four responses to my site a week, and now it is eight or ten a day. And many require responses, so it keeps me busy. Something to do in my retirement - like I didn't already have other stuff going on. Not that I mind - it means that what I have to say is being heard - but it is becoming a bit of work. It is work I am happy to do, however. Particularly when it is a gay youth or parent of a gay youth who needs help and finds my site useful, but needs further help or information. That is particularly gratifying to me.

Well, today ended up laundry day again. That goes on a lot around here, first, because clothes get dirty quite quickly, due to the mugginess of the atmosphere here. And second, because I have a relatively small amount of clothes at the moment, and have to wash them more frequently than I would. Laundry takes awhile, because I have a small washing machine, and it will do only about three pounds at a time.

I went out and checked on the wasp problem this morning. As advertised, they are all gone now. Some of them were killed when I tossed the diesel fuel on the nest late last night, and they are lying in a small heap in the flower bed at the bottom of the column. I hope I didn't get too much diesel fuel in the soil in the flower beds, but since the soil is damp, I can't really tell. I just got some coleus planted in the flower beds, and it is finally starting to grow, so I hope I haven't set it back or killed it.

Some of my ham friends, a very nice couple I happen to know, went to San Jose yesterday to pick up some guests who have come in to vacation here. They just got back a few minutes ago, and are going to go visit the volcano tonight, and see if they can watch the cascades of red-hot lava cascading down the slopes. I wish them luck. It has been cloudy for some time now, and as we are going into the rainy season, I suspect that it will be cloudy as usual there. But, hey, they came all this way, and they want to see that quintessentially Central American landscape of palm-studded jungle around a lake, with a volcano spewing lava in the background.

There has been enough rain lately that the countryside around Arenal is finally starting to green up a bit. Here, there is enough rain during the so-called dry season that things stay green pretty much all the time. The humidity is definitely up, too - laundry stays wet on the line overnight, and during the dry season, it would dry in a couple of hours. So it is definitely into the rainy season regime.

I have decided to try a different tack on the roof problem - one that I can do myself. I am going to go to the ferreteria tomorrow, and see if they have any of that urethane foam that you can buy in a pressurized can. If they have any, I am going to pull down some ceiling tiles and see if I can see any holes in the roof from below in the attic. If so, I'll see if I can fill them from below, using the pressurized foam. Hopefully that will work well enough that I can avoid having to have someone crawl up on the roof sheets and do more or less the same thing, but from above. Admittedly that would be the method more likely to succeed in properly filling the holes, but doing it from below avoids having to find someone small and lightweight to get up there and do that, and the risk that it entails in possibly splitting a roof sheet. It also is a way I can deal with the problem myself. It has the additional advantage that the sunlight shining from above should make the holes rather evident, and easy to find. So far, I haven't found any obvious problems from above, other than the crown piece that is sitting up a bit higher than it should. If that is the only problem, it will be easy to find and fix from below. Even if this doesn't work, I still need to foam to fill in some gaps that the insects are using to get into the attic around the soffit. So the money won't be wasted. I am not looking forward to pulling down one or more ceiling tiles, however. I fully expect that twenty five years of dirt, filth, dead insects and dead whatever else is up there, is going to be quite an unpleasant mess. But it has got to be done. The roof leaks are getting to be quite a nuisance, and the rainy season is more or less upon us. They are only going to get worse, not better.

While in town, I am also going to pick up some more insecticide. I am all out, and from time to time, I need it to kill various things that show up in the house, usually Argentine ants. I also really need to get up in the ceiling and find and kill the carpenter ant nest that seems to have gotten established up there. I also need some calk to fill in the bottom of the wall between the bedrooms, where they are coming out and making quite a nuisance of themselves. If they have damaged the wall, I may have to take it out and rebuild it. I would probably do that with steel studs, which are now cheaper than wood here, and they have another compelling advantage - I have never seen an insect, not even here, that can eat a steel stud.

I also need to check into getting some paint. I need to start working on the paint around here. The kitchen is still painted in the original paint from when the house was built. It is a horrible shade of bluish green (which seems to be quite popular here) that the outside is still painted with, and with all the holes that have been made in the walls, and various patches, including the window that I recently closed up, the walls are a horrible mess. The color is a fairly dark color, too, and that contributes considerably to the overall gloomy, dark feeling in that kitchen. So I need to look into getting some paint and going to work on that. Paint is horribly expensive here - running to the equivalent of about $25 a gallon, but apparently there is a guy that comes around town with American-made paint purchased in bulk from building store chains in the States, that is expired or seconds and the like, and the price is quite reasonable. If I can get some of that, I can paint the interior and finally have a kitchen that looks fit to cook and eat in. It sure needs something - it is a truly awful mess as it stands, and my nice, appealing new breakfast bar just makes the paint look all that much worse. I am undecided, though, whether I should go ahead and change out the windows first. There is no doubt that once the old wooden window frames are removed, I'll have some repainting to do, if I paint now. But at least I can have some decent looking walls for a change. Lots to do. Busy, busy retirement.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:19:59 PM

Sat, May 15 2004

Belated Blog Entry

I apologise to all my readers - and from the response I am getting, there seem to be a surprisingly large number of you. This week has not been a really good one, and it has left me somewhat depressed and not feeling like sitting down to write any more than I had to, so not much has gotten done in the blog department of this web site.

Until yesterday, the weather wasn't very conducive to getting things done - dark and rainy, so I didn't get a whole lot accomplished around the place. And whatever I did, seems like it just didn't work out for whatever reason. And as the gloomy weather settled in, so did my depression.

I started off the week looking for a roof leak. Seems that in a serious downpour, I have a couple of leaks that, while not serious, are nevertheless a considerable nuisance, so I went to the ferreteria (hardware store) and bought a seven foot stepladder, so I could climb up and see what the situation was with the roof.

The ferreteria had just the ladders I was looking for - but man, were they proud of them! I wound up paying 28,000 colones ($69) for a locally-made aluminum ladder. It is not badly constructed, by any means, and certainly sturdy enough, though I would not consider it to be "commercial grade" or anything like that. But it is fine for what I will be using it for.

Anyway, I got it home and set it up under the eaves as close to the leak as I could, so I could climb up and have a look. As close an inspection as I could manage revealed no obvious problem, other than a crown piece that is not laying down flat, and a rather considerable buildup of roof moss, so I got a ten foot piece of plastic pipe out of the carport and cleaned it all the moss off as best I could. Since I can't just climb up on the roof without risking splitting the Fibrolite roofing sheets, there was not much more I could do. But there were no visible holes in the roof, and no loose bolts or missing bolt gaskets anywhere near the leak. So I figured that the problem had to be the loose crown piece, and that will have to wait until I can get someone up there to fill in around the loose crown piece with some urethane foam. I can't re-set the crown piece without undoing some bolts, and that runs the risk of splitting a roof sheet - in the twenty-five years they have been up there, they have gotten quite brittle. So filling in the gaps is all I can do. And that will require someone light-weight who I can con into getting up there with a can of urethane foam to spray in the gaps. So I may not have any choice but to wait for awhile until I find someone I can trust.

The night after I got the roof moss cleaned out, it rained. A good hard rain, but not a downpour, by any means. But the roof did not leak, at least so I could see it on the ceiling. I thought that perhaps just clearing the moss had done the trick. But Thursday, we had a good hard downpour, and alas, some drips in the kitchen, in the usual spot, over the breakfast bar, though it was not as serious as it had been. So the leak isn't fixed after all. One other, minor leak however, did hold. I think I may have solved that one.

So I am back to fretting about who I can get to climb up on the roof. Guess I am just going to have to check around and take what I can get, like it or not. I'll ask around among my gringo friends to find out if they know of anyone.

Yesterday, I noticed a bunch of wasps hanging around my front porch. On investigation, I discovered that they are building a nest on the outside of the support column that holds up the roof at the corner of the porch. My gardener tells me that the nest can get quite large - the size of a basketball. I checked with my friend at the botanical garden, and he advised me to wait until late in the evening, around 8 or 9, and then go out and spray it with some diesel fuel. That seems to be the all-purpose insecticide and pesticide around here. None of the local critters can seem to tolerate the local diesel fuel, so it gets used for everything - insecticide, herbicide, rodenticide, etc. I stopped at the hardware store today and got a gallon jug, and then went across the street to the gas station and filled it with a gallon of diesel fuel. 804 colones later (just under $2), I have plenty to do the job, including killing some bamboo that I want to remove, and poisoning a termite mound that is growing in one of my Creole orange trees. Now before all you environmentalists go ballistic on me, you need to understand - this is the tropics. We have really aggressive decay bacteria and fungus here, and a diesel spill isn't the environmental threat here that it is in colder climates. Here, a diesel spill, if it is a small one, will be degraded long before it can wash to a stream or lake - and the nearest lake where it would wash to, would be my own pond anyway. Additionally, the oil sold as diesel fuel here is quite volatile - it evaporates quite readily. So if I were concerned, I would not have used it. It is certainly more benign than most of the rather aggressive pesticides and herbicides that are in use in this country, including many that are banned in the U.S.

While waiting for dark, and the opportunity to poison the wasp nest that is rapidly growing out on my front porch (from nothing this morning, it has grown to the size of a baseball already), I decided to get started on re-covering the rocking chair on my front porch, since I can't be out there rocking in it anyway. I got some fabric from the local dry-goods emporium last week, and got some upholstery foam from the ferreteria when I was there today. I borrowed a staple gun from one of my friends, so I was all set - or so I thought. The stapler had only about six staples left in it, so I will have to get some more from the ferreteria, but they are closed till Monday, and so that project will have to wait until then. In the meantime, I got the seat bottom and back and arms pulled off, and the old fabric and foam removed. I am all set, as soon as the ferreteria opens on Monday and I can get some more staples.

It is a bit after three, and the afternoon rains have started. Back inside, out of the garden and waiting for it to blow over. I am still needing to get the rest of the banana plants transplanted, but that will have to wait. Perhaps tomorrow, but then we are supposed to have another stretch of rainy, cloudy weather beginning tomorrow. Not looking forward to it. It gets in the way of getting things done.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:15:22 PM

Sun, May 09 2004

Got My Mail But...

Yesterday, the wife of one of my ham friends got back from a trip to San Jose. I had asked her to stop and get my mail, which she did, so I finally have my mail.

That's the good news. The bad news is that I got everything except what I really need - my tax documents. It seems that all the tax documents have gotten "lost" and that certainly is bad news - it means I'll have to try to extrapolate from information I have, and if necessary, estimate, to complete my taxes. I'll have to do it online, too, since I haven't received either the forms or the software I ordered.

I suspect that there is a reason why I haven't gotten my tax documents, even though I have received everything else, including bank statements and credit card statements and even magazines and junk mail. And I am confident that it relates to the reason that my mail was months late in showing up here. I suspect it is part of the overall system of harassment I have been subjected to ever since I put up my web essays about George Bush and the Zionist misdeeds in Palestine. That is when the FBI harassment started, and the harassment hasn't stopped since, even since I have been in exile. Geez, I'm getting tired of being hassled by those hypocrite Conservatives who talk endlessly about they are the true advocates for American freedom and liberty and free speech, but, in reality, are the ones who honor that talk only in the breach.

But I don't get mad, I just get even. I am planning a full-blown essay about the myths Americans tell themselves about their country and their government and how the reality is often quite different. And the myth about freedom and liberty will include my own personal experience as an example of why it just ain't so.

Well, now that I have that rant off my chest, I can get on to the rest of what has been going on around here. It hasn't been much. It has continued to rain, and that has limited what I could get done outside. I haven't even had a chance to get some more bananas planted - they are some plants that were planted by the tenant, but in a very unfavorable spot, the wall of the ravine where the road drainage enters the pond, so I am going to move them out to my regular banana grove that seems to be producing well. Banana plants, at least the commercial fruiting variety, aren't all that attractive, and so there is no good reason to have them near the house. They'll go out on the far end of the pond, where I can see them from the house (and keep an eye on them), but they won't be an eyesore in the garden.

I have also laid plans for building a combination settling pond and water garden in the east end of the property, where the runoff from the street cuts across my property and into the pond - with all the mud from the street. I want to keep that out of the pond, where it is not doing the fish any good, and where it is simply slowly silting up the pond. I have decided to build a retaining wall of stacked river rock around my side of the ravine that the water has cut. That retaining wall will serve as a dam to impound the water and with the addition of leaf litter from the garden, filter out the sediment and some of the clay that the water carries into the pond. That should also help reduce the tendency of the wall of the ravine to slump into the stream bed. There is a tiny spring down at the bottom of the ravine that runs nearly all the time, and I would like to protect it and enhance the flow, and make a small water garden down there using it. The wall above, planted with moss and ferns, would enhance it and turn what is now a liability into an asset, improving water quality in the pond while making an attractive little water garden that will be a pleasant place to spend time, particularly on those rare hot, dry days in the summer. The effect is going to be enhanced by the huge guava trees that have grown over into a closed canopy above, and will make a part of the beautiful little grotto.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:13:44 PM

Fri, May 07 2004

My First Bananas - And My First Insect Problem

My first bananas were harvested today. The gardener noticed that one bunch was ready, and cut them down for me. I have them hanging up in the kitchen to ripen now. That will take about a week, and then they'll be ready to eat. When they're cut just before they turn yellow, and are allowed to ripen cut down from the plant, they taste the best. And I'll be looking forward to my own bananas picked at the optimum time, not just when they ship the best.

There are several more bunches up in my banana plants, and so I should have plenty of bananas through the rainy season, at least I hope. I love them! I found out that none of them are plantains, however, and I am going to have to get some plantain starts from somewhere, because the tenant here didn't much care for plantains and didn't want to devote space in the garden to them. So no plantains here - yet.

There are several other tropical fruits in the garden that are coming on, too, but so far nothing that is really ready. I checked the macadamias, and a couple of trees are starting to drop their nuts, so I will be watching them closely to try collect them when they are ready, before the squirrels can nick them. I have a Suriname cherry that bore last month, but the fruit is not much to my liking - rather sour and not a particularly interesting flavor. But I am told that the fruit will be a lot bigger and tastier if the tree gets some fertilizer. My gardener tells me that the place seems to do the best with 10-30-10, and told me where to get it, so that is what I am going to look for.

This afternoon it was off to the bank to get my bills paid. I found out that one bank in town offers an automatic bill-paying service, so I went in and established an account there, and got the auto-pay thing all set up. It will sure be nice, not having to run around town to get the bills paid. This month, however, I still had to pay the bills myself. I went over to ICE to get my electric bill and then headed for the bank to get them all paid - power, phone, cell, and water. Everything went OK until they got to my power bill. They said it had already been paid, and so I took the factura (invoice) back over to ICE. They called the accounting office, and found out that my account was current, and told me so, but they also gave me the phone number of someone to call at ICE on Monday. I am still not quite sure why it shows I'm current, or why I would need to call this dude if it is. I sure hope that they don't cut off my power for an unpaid bill when I have been trying to pay it.

The weather is certainly heading back into the rainy-season regime. It has been raining pretty much all day. It rained hard all night, and hard enough that the three minor roof leaks I have reared their ugly heads, resulting in a couple of small puddles on the floor. I need to get someone small and lightweight up there who can patch the roof for me - I'm too heavy and am quite likely to split the old and fragile Fiberlite sheets that the roof is made from, even if I put a piece of plywood down. That needs to be done before the rainy season is here big-time - then, the leaks will become a problem and will be hard to patch.

This evening, I encountered my first serious insect infestation problem since I have been in this house, and probably the most significant since I have been in the country. This evening, just about sunset, I just happened to walk into the master bedroom, and noticed some insects on the floor. On investigation, they appeared to be coming from a gap at the bottom of the wall in the rear of the closet. There was a large swarm of them around the gap. It is a stud wall, but faced with the quarter-inch plywood that is popular here for room partitions. There was about an eighth of an inch between the plywood and the floor, and they were coming out from it.

On investigation, they were very large ants, with wings, and appeared to be carpenter ants, preparing to fly off to establish a new colony somewhere. Not surprising, given the change of seasons. I ran for the kitchen and my aerosol can of insecticide, and sprayed all the ones on the floor, and up into the gap between the wall and the floor as best I could.

For a few moments, they swarmed out, but began dying quickly enough. Pretty soon, most were dead and the few still alive were walking around in erratic circles, clearly about the join their colleagues in the ant-hereafter. After the fumes dissipated, I swept up the mess and ended up with a good cupful of dead ants. For the last two hours, I have seen no more coming out of the gap, so I think I must have managed to exterminate the colony. I sure hope so. Carpenter ants can sting and even draw blood, and they can be as destructive as termites, so I hope I got them all. I'll get another can tomorrow, along with an injection tube, and spray it properly up into the wall just to make sure. Don't need them little blighters walking across my face all night and biting me when I roll over. And I sure don't need the closet falling down around my ears.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:03:23 PM

Wed, May 05 2004

Antenna Is Down And Not Going Back Up Soon

It is Wednesday, and I am writing a blog entry mostly because I haven't written one in a while, and my regular readers will wonder if I don't write one soon. It has been a quiet week with frequent periods of light rain that have pretty much foiled any attempts to get much of anything done. I have been playing around with my ham radio, but this afternoon, I turned on the radio to discover the signals were abnormally weak. Just didn't sound like it should. So I went out to have a look at the antenna.

Well, the feedline was still running up the pole, like it should, and the east end was in place, but somehow the west end just wasn't there. I went looking for it and found it hanging loose, draped over the tree fern. A look at the end revealed that the iron wire had simply rusted through and broken off at the feedpoint when it was too weak to survive the tensile force holding it aloft.

There was nothing to do but to lower the feedpoint and repair it. So I unloosened the rope that ran through the pulley at the top of the pole, to lower the rope that was holding up the feedpoint. Well, the rope got away from me and down came the feedpoint in a couple of seconds, and the end of the rope I was holding was, at the same time, run up above my ability to reach it.

Now I had a problem. I could easily reach the antenna feedpoint and repair it, but there was no way to grab the end of the rope and pull it back up to the top of the bamboo pole. The only hope was to loosen the rope that held the pulley, and allow it to come down, pulled down by its own weight, at least low enough to where I could grab the end of the antenna's rope, and then pull everything back up. But there was a big if - and that was if the little one-inch pulley was heavy enough to overcome the friction of the rope draped across the top of the two-meter antenna.

I loosened the end of the rope holding the pulley, but soon realized that it was draped around so many things that the friction was too high, and the pulley would not drop. I had no choice but to try to use my end to get it undraped enough to allow the pulley to drop.

In the process, somehow, the pulley managed to get pulled over the top of the two meter antenna and down the other side, and down the pole it came, snagging tightly on a branch node about a third of the way up. I no longer had a pulley at the top of my forty foot bamboo pole from which to hoist a wire antenna. I didn't even have the pulley, either. Now I am really sunk - I have no way to hoist an antenna.

I have alternatives, but none of them are good ones. The first alternative is to lower the pole and install the pulley at the top, properly, so that it won't come down again. That is problematic, because it would require at least two other people to help lower the pole and then raise it back up. I don't have a lot of people available to me, and have to ask for help to do that - I would have to ask the same people who helped me put it up in the first place, and I don't want to do that.

The second possibility is to toss an object with a rope tied to it, over the top of the two-meter antenna, and simply re-install the rope and pulley arrangement the way it had been. I am not fond of this option, because it would first require someone with a better throwing arm than I have. That means getting the person over here who has been here before to do this task - and I am not keen on wearing out my welcome this way. And once this is done, I still end up with a rather hammy arrangement.

The third possibility is to put up a second pole, with a pulley firmly secured to the top and rope loop coming down the pole,and nothing else on it, so that there wouldn't be anything else fastened to the pole to get in the way. Good option, and preferable to the first two, but with the same disadvantage of requiring a crew to help get the pole up.

The fourth option is to simply not put up an antenna until I get the tower installed that I am planning. Then, I can simply climb the tower and install the antenna at the top, secured properly, and be done with it.

This fourth option is the option I have selected. I have personal reasons for doing this, and I don't wish to go into them here. Suffice it to say that there are personal reasons why I don't find operation on the HF bands as attractive as I did a few weeks or months ago. So I will put up an antenna for shortwave listening, but that is all, and won't worry about getting back on shortwave transmit until I install a tower. If I install a tower. And I don't know when that will be. But it is not likely to be soon.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:32:05 PM

Sun, May 02 2004

Labor Day Weekend On The Lake

This is Labor Day weekend everywhere in the world except the United States. It began Friday, with most shops closing an hour or two early, and both yesterday and today, every shop in town was closed, with the exception of the panaderia (bakery). It was kinda eerie, driving through town without a single car parked on Main Street, or seeing hordes of pedestrians walking around the business district.

There wasn't much going on, of course, so my friends who are starting up the kayak rental business invited me out to paddle around the lake a bit. Didn't take much to convince me to go, so by nine, we were out on the water. We paddled from the city park, where there is a good boat ramp to put in, over to the bay where the outlet from my pond enters the lake. I had wanted to see that, and so we paddled around the peninsula that the south end of Nuevo Arenal is situated on, and around to the west side of the peninsula and the cove. We paddled some ways back up into the bay where the outlet is located, and found the outlet itself. Turns out it is not far from my house. We took a GPS waypoint there and then paddled back to the park. Back at my house, a GPS measurement confirmed that it is only two hundred meters from my front door - which means the mouth of the creek is only about a hundred fifty meters from the property edge. During the paddle, it was cloudy most of the time, and even rained on and off, though the rain here is not the cold, bone-chilling rain that is so annoying back in the States. Here, it is a minor nuisance.

When we got back from the paddle, we decided to see if we could walk down the creek from my house to the outlet. Turns out that the jungle gets just a bit too dense to make it, but you can readily see where it empties into the lake, and it is not far from my house - a lot closer than I had thought.

We discovered a canoe sitting there, just outside the right-of-way fence, across the road from my property, at the head of the outlet stream. I don't have a clue as to why it was there, unless they had intended to go paddling on my pond. Turns out it was a canoe that was stolen about a year ago from one of my friends who has been living here for some time, who just happened by as we were there talking about it. As we were discussing what to do about it, two fellows in a pickup truck showed up to claim it and take it away. Needless to say, some discussion ensued about who owned it. Turns out these fellows had just purchased it from the man who my friend had theorized might have stolen it in the first place. But there was no way to prove anything any way around, other than the original purchase.

Nuevo Arenal is a small town. Everyone knows everyone else, and has to deal with them on an almost daily basis. If my friend had tried to reclaim this canoe, he would have made enemies of these two fellows who had just purchased it, and that would not be a good thing in a place where everyone has to get along. Since my friend couldn't prove the original purchase there on the spot, nor the fact that it had been stolen, it would have only alienated the two fellows who thought they had made a legitimate purchase. Additionally, the canoe was old and battered, and had been rather significantly damaged during the robbery and still bore the damage, and, given its condition, my friend decided it was not worth making a big deal about it to try to get it back.

My friends and I decided that the best thing to do was just go up to the disco and have a pizza and beer and forget about it. We found the disco open, having opened at noon, and other than the panaderia, it was still the only business in town that was.

After a good lunch of pizza and beer, and after two hours of paddling around the lake, I was well and truly tired out, so at half-past one, I came back to the house and laid down for a siesta. At a bit after four, I finally woke up. That was a serious nap! I discovered, though, that out on the lake, the sun had been strong enough, in spite of the early hour and in spite of the cloudy weather, to have sunburned me on my rather pale legs, and it sunburned me far more badly than I would have expected. So I cut an aloe spear from a plant in my garden and smeared the gel on my sunburned legs. It seems to have helped quell the pain quite a bit, so I'll continue the therapy tomorrow. Not looking forward to a week of pain and itching, but that is what I get for not taking precautions from this tropical sun.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:22:25 PM
Copyright © 2003 Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.