Letters From Exile

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

Tue, Sep 28 2004

Doing The Cyberlaundry

I am feeling well enough now to take care of non-essentials; things I have been putting off, but which need doing. I went out in the garden for a look around to see how things have fared during my illness, and it turns out just about everything is fine except my prized new navel orange tree is thoroughly infested with honey aphids. They are quite destructive, so I need to get to the feed store in town and get some pesticide to kill them off. Left unattended, they will kill the tree.

The other big item on the agenda is to try to get caught up on email and blog entries. Yes, all the blog entries since last Tuesday are being written right now. I was far too ill to take on such a project before now. It has taken me most all day to get them done, and I am glad that this is my final one for today.

The neighbor who helped me with my bulk trash owns the property across the street from me. I noticed him setting fenceposts along his far-side property boundary this afternoon - where he already has a barbed-wire fence, and so I decided to grab a walking stick and slowly make my way up there to see what he was doing. I figured he must be replacing the barbed wire with an electric fence.

All I could find was a piece of plastic waterpipe, so that became my temporary walking stick, and I walked up there to see what the fellow was up to. As I had surmised, he has decided to replace his barbed wire with a single-strand electric fence. He loves them, he told me. They only require one strand, which means that fence posts can be three times as far apart. Don't require gloves to work on them. Nowhere near the maintenance. Definitely the way to go.

While there, I mentioned that I would sure like to acquire about 500 meters of wire similar to what he was using, and asked if he knew where I could buy it. He indicated that the coop in Tilaran sells it, and it is the equivalent of about $6 for that much - dirt cheap. If I know the guy, though, I expect he'll bring some by the house and I won't have to make a trip to acquire it. That is one of the interesting aspects of life in this country. Everyone has everything for sale, and if you make your needs known, you won't have to go after much, it will come to you.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:03:44 PM

Mon, Sep 27 2004

Trip Cancelled

I slept through the night without any nightmares, and pretty much two hours at a time, not a whole lot unlike my regular sleeping pattern. Clearly I am on the mend. Mostly at this point, I am left with a serious headache, particularly on the right side of my head and around my right ear (that started soon after I went on the Cipro), and I suspect it is a muscle spasm in the neck.

Before all this happened, I had planned to take a business trip to Liberia. Needless to say, that got cancelled. So there wasn't much to do but try to get a few minor things done around the house. I started with some work on the computer, and had not much more than gotten into that, than I had a neighbor come by, who informed me that there was a bulk trash pickup due to come by the house between one and three that afternoon, and if I wanted to get rid of all that junk in my side yard, this was the opportunity. What a golden opportunity! A bulk trash pickup! I did not know that they were happening here; I figured I would have to haul it to the dump myself. Unfortunately, I was still to weak to do such a project in such a hurry, and I explained my dilemma. He could see my considerable disappointment.

I went back inside to put on an old shirt and gloves, and move what I could, hoping I could get rid of the worst of it. But when I went back out, there he was, pitching it over the fence for me, without even being asked! I went to work with him and in a few minutes, it was entirely pitched over the fence and ready for pickup. What a guy! I thanked him profusely and sent him on his way.

I got a rag to wipe my face from the sweat of the fever that I had stirred back up, and went back to the rocking chair on the porch. I hadn't much more than sat down, when a gringo lady drove up in a battered blue pickup, and stopped in front of the house.

She introduced herself as with the chairperson of the recycling committee, and informed me that they would not be by for the pickup today as planned, but would be by on Tuesday or Wednesday. She explained that the municipality figured that since they were doing recycling pickup every six months, that they should be doing the bulk trash collection as well. Well, the volunteer effort wasn't funded to do that, but they took it on anyway, and have been doing it ever since. So once every six months, there is a bulk trash/recycling pickup that I had known nothing about.

Turns out she is a really nice lady. I mentioned that I have five large macadamia trees, and she said that if I can keep the production away from the squirrels, she would be happy to buy my fruits at market prices, which is about $3 a kilo at the moment. She indicates that she loses about 90% of her crop to the squirrels, and that is a typical figure just about anywhere that macadamias are grown among squirrels. That is one of the reasons they are so expensive. She says she will sell me vacuum-packed, unroasted kernels at $11 per kilo. She does no roasting at the farm, but it is best to do that immediately before usage anyway, as they go rancid with incredible speed.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:18:50 PM

Sun, Sep 26 2004

Feeling Better Incrementally

Today I was doing better, and was able to get up and around long enough do some laundry. It was in bad need of getting done - my bed sheets had become soiled from the diarrhea, and I had accumulated a whole lot of soiled briefs, too. So most of the day was spent in doing laundry, getting it on the line and back off when dry, folded, and put away. It was quite a project, given my condition, but I had improved enough to handle it with ease. I was feeling half-way human again.

I was able to get on the net and spend some time in the chat room I frequently inhabit. Everyone wondered where I had been, and I explained that I was down with typhoid, and on the mend. I found out that the price I was charged for the Cipro was the same price being charged in the States. Costa Rica isn't a bit cheaper as far as drugs are concerned.

The fever was breaking up and becoming intermittent. The headaches were still there, but the sensory disturbances were gone. Fatigue still a serious problem, and that is clearly going to take some time to recover, since I am generally rather fatigued from my liver condition all the time anyway. But I am feeling a bit better every day.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:39:40 PM

Sat, Sep 25 2004

Well Enough For A Trip

Today I finally felt halfway human again - at least enough to take a trip to Tilaran to a pharmacy if needed. And I had my phone working again, so I got on line and did some poking around to see what the most likely problem was.

Turns out it is typhoid fever. The symptoms and mode of acquisition closely match my symptoms, and of all the possibilities to consider, it is the only candidate that did. So, what to do about it. Well, the Center for Disease Control website recommends a course of antibiotics, even if the patient shows steady improvement. That is because the disease can, and usually does, go into remission, only to return later, often with fatal consequences. A ten-day course of Ciproflaxicin (Cipro, as in the anthrax scare), was the recommended treatment. I checked some Cipro web sites for the contraindications, and found none I needed to worry about. Untreated, typhoid is fatal in 12 - 30% of cases, apparently, so this looked serious enough to justify a run to Tilaran and the nearest farmacia. I inventoried my strength to see if I could drive there and back safely enough, and whether it would be necessary to stop enroute. I had enough cash to pay for it when I got there, and enough gas to make it there and back.

Costa Rica is a country always full of surprises. I had no sooner pulled out on the highway than I met a group of pickup trucks escorting a group of horsemen who, I later found out, were part of a group on the annual trail ride around the lake. Had I been in good shape, I would not have minded being a part of their trip.

The road to Tilaran was its usual bumpy self, no surprise there. But they had actually made some serious progress in getting the potholes fixed - there are only about two miles of potholes remaining now.

Once in Tilaran, there was another surprise. Besides the horsemen, of which there were plenty, there were also plenty of coyotes, Hell's Angels types, running around town. They're seen around here occasionally, but I was seeing far more than usual. I asked the clerk in the farmacia about that, and she indicated that there was a gang driving through. "Mal hombres!" (bad boys), she said.

Twenty nine thousand colones later (about $64), I was back on the road to Arenal, and dodging potholes, coyotes, and horsemen. I actually made it back here in reasonable time - about what it usually takes. The decreasing number of potholes to dodge made up for the other weirdness going on.

Back at home, with the medicine needed for the cure at last. All there was to do was start the course and wait. Three days before I should expect much in the way of results. So it is back to mostly bed.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:52:24 AM

Fri, Sep 24 2004

Steady Improvement

This morning, I was feeling some considerable improvement. I was finally able to fry some eggs for the first time, and the thick-headedness had begun to lift. And the sepia-tone I had been viewing the world through, seemed to be gone as well.

My gardener would show and I was interested in his take. But he was also going to cut the lawn, and I certainly wasn't looking forward to the noise - though the mosquitos were getting bad, and I would be glad for the relief. But I had noticed something interesting about that, too - hadn't had a mosquito bite since I had fallen sick. Maybe I was scaring them off with some smell I was producing.

Anyway, he showed up around nine, and went to work, cutting my lawn, making the usual racket with his weedwhacker. My hypersensitivity to it drove me to keep the windows and doors closed during the process. While raking up, we chatted as I sat in the rocking chair on the porch and he raked nearby. He felt I ought to go to the clinic and get it checked out, but I figured if I were on the mend anyway, there probably wasn't a need. He suggested a folk-remedy, which made some sense, but I didn't figure it was likely to cure the problem. Otherwise, he thought I ought to at least go to a pharmacy and get some antibiotics and give them a try.

My phone went out the previous morning, and with it, access to the internet, so I couldn't spend some time browsing the medical sites. But I figured that it would be back on soon enough, and I could have a look then. As the day progressed, I began to realize that it wasn't coming back on. I asked a couple of passers-by if their phones were working, and they said they were. Maybe the problem was my line - if so, this could be a problem. I didn't want to be without it for the entire weekend.

About sundown, it occurred to me that I had a voltmeter and could check the phone line at the demark block easily enough. So I got out the meter and the ladder and did that - to discover that there was battery at the demark. So I began the search for the problem, and soon found it in the wiring in the office. Back online, I was tired enough by now to do a quick email check and then go back to bed. The google search would have to wait for the morning.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:57:06 AM

Thu, Sep 23 2004

Feeling A Bit Better

By this morning, I had begun to feel noticeably better. Enough so, that I figured I would wait it out and see if I got better on my own, without having to rack up some big clinic and pharmacy bills. So toughing it out seemed to actually be an option now.

For breakfast, I was still weak enough that a bowl of cornflakes was all I really wanted to attempt. It was not a big one, but I hadn't eaten since yesterday morning, and I really needed to get something in me. I was actually getting some hunger pangs through all the nausea and mild but persistent diarrhea.

The day went by with short naps, interrupted by noise from the street and, of course, the constant trips to the bathroom. I managed a brief email session, decided there was nothing requiring my immediate attention, and so I went back to listening to the BBC when I couldn't sleep, and tending to my nightmares when I could. Not a pleasant day, but certainly not as unpleasant as last night had been.

I figured if I were feeling as much better tomorrow, as I had today, I would spend some time on the internet and look at some medical sites and see if I could get a likely list of candidate diseases. By now I realized what I had was not resurgent malaria, it had to be something else.

I tried the internet for a quick email session, but the modem reported no dial tone. I checked the line - nothing. Well, I figured it would be back on soon, but all day long, nothing. Well, I won't worry about it for now, I've got far bigger problems to worry about

Bread and milk for dinner - I was running low on milk - and then off to bed. Not looking forward to another night of nightmares interrupted by frequent urination urges. But at least tonight there was more sleep - the interruptions were a blessed hour apart.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:23:08 AM

Wed, Sep 22 2004

The Longest Day And The Longest Night

Today was the longest and most difficult day I can ever remember facing. After last night's arduous night, today's fatigue and boredom, along with the frequent interruptions of rest to just run for the bathroom as quickly as possible, today's misery continued and without letup. I did not see what if anything could be done about this situation (my judgment and cognition were fading), and figured there wasn't much I could do but buck up to the situation and see it through.

I began to have perceptual disturbances, too. The fever was fairly constant and intense - I would estimate at about 103 - and the relatively mild but insistent diarrhea wasn't getting worse, either. But what was new was an extreme sensitivity to smell. Rice with soy sauce became totally unpalatable - I could taste all the tiny, hidden subtleties in the soy sauce that made it quite unpleasant. So even though I managed to cook a dinner of chicken and rice, I was unable to eat two thirds of the small chicken breast, and no more than a few bites of rice. The rest went into the fridge.

I noticed that my sight was changed - it was as if I were looking through a mild sepia filter. Everything took on a slight yellowish caste. And my night vision was almost gone. When the lights were out, I could see nothing in the house except the patches of light from the streetlights outside.

Tonight, sleep, when I could get it, became really strange. Nightmares. All night, there were nightmares. They began with scenes of prisoners in Central American jails being mistreated and abused. Then the images dissolved into chaos - mostly random shapes and textures that would make a '70's hippie really sit up and take notice, except that these were really unpleasant. It was actually a relief to have them interrupted every twenty minutes by the need to get up and go to the bathroom.

Urination became rather strange, too. The urge to urinate was constant - even right after having done so. Only when it became unbearably intense, I would go and do so, and then I would produce a tiny amount of urine - which would satisfy the urge for a couple of minutes or so. Frequently, the urge to urinate became more intense after I got up to go do so, and I couldn't even make it to the bathroom, wetting my briefs, and making a mess of the toilet. Yet only a tiny bit of urine would be produced.

Once, during the middle of the night, as I was weaving and wallbanging my way to the bathroom, I realized that I was weak enough that if I fell or collapsed, there probably wasn't any getting up. This was the low point. I realized that in the morning, I needed to call for some help, no matter what - this was getting serious enough to be life-threatening. The question was who. The only people I really trusted to help were out of town. But that is a matter to be left for the morning.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:49:39 AM

Tue, Sep 21 2004

Oooops! Big Mistake!

Well, I certainly knew better. I have been told over and over to never swim in water that hasn't been tested 'cause it can make you seriously ill. So yesterday's impulse to just jump in the pond and swim out to the overflow proved to be a spectacular failure of judgement. Well, today, I found out just how seriously ill that moment of stupidity can cause.

Everything was just fine until about one in the afternoon, when I had a truly serious chill. My first thought was that perhaps it was a resurgence of the malaria that I had contracted in Africa, but the chill failed to quickly switch to the usual malarial hot flash, so I realized it had to be something else. But I was far too sick to do much of anything about it - even getting out of bed to take a leak was soon a serious chore (this is being written post-hoc).

Early in the evening, I did manage a short email session, and advised a couple of friends that I was seriously ill, thought it might be malaria, but wasn't sure, and advised them that they may not be hearing from me regularly until I felt better. I had an attempt at supper, not terribly successful, as I had no appetite at all, and went back to bed.

It was a rough night. The substantial fever combined with the headache and frequent need to urinate meant that little sleep was possible, but I tried as best I could. It was one of the longest, most difficult nights I could remember.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:27:14 AM

Mon, Sep 20 2004

Adventures In Pond Management, Part II

Well, after yesterday's big scare, I figured I had better get with the problem of getting the pond overflow cleaned out so it can drain properly during a storm. So right after breakfast, with a truly beautiful day to do all the dirty work, I got with the program. I went to the gasolinera and got a couple of inner tubes. Korean made, not particularly impressive or large, but they looked like they would do the job, and at about $6 a piece, not horribly expensive. The ferreteria (hardware store) didn't have the plastic pipe I needed for the seat, but they did have the Fiberlite I wanted to use for the platform, and so I bought a piece of that, figuring I could rig up a platform frame with some lumber I had here at the house. When I got back, I couldn't find anything suitable. Well, with the bright sunny day, the thought of going tubing out on the pond was just too tempting, so I put on my bathing suit and walked down to the pond with the larger of the two tubes and a six foot piece of plastic water pipe to probe the bottom for snapping turtles. I figured I would kick-paddle out there and see what the overflow was like.

After probing the shore where I was entering the water, to make sure there were no snappers there, I jumped into the tube and shoved off, being greeted by a number of small, intensely curious cichlid fish. One thing I wanted to check out was a floating object in the middle of the pond that had been there since I moved in. Turns out it was someone's fishing tackle - mostly full of water, but not quite, it was a plastic bottle with some fishing line wrapped around it, anchored to the bottom and floating bottom end up. I could not pull the line up - it is snagged on something and too strong to break - so I simply removed the cap and filled it with water and let it sink. Then it was on to the overflow, to check it out and see what I was up against in getting it cleaned out.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got there. The overflow is a rectangular concrete pipe, two and three quarter feet by three and a half, with the inside measuring two feet four inches by three feet. I quickly discovered that there is a submerged ledge around the outside about four and a half feet deep, so it was the perfect height to stand on while cleaning the overflow. Which meant that it wasn't necessary to worry about having to do the cleaning while leaning from a boat. The grate proved to be shallower than I had expected, too - only about four inches below the water line. It is made from #2 re-bar, and is in remarkably good condition. It is easy to clean and not terribly time comsuming.

Another pleasant - and interesting - surprise is that there was very little trash in the grate. Other than a few large leaves and a half-dozen sticks or so, all that was impeding the water flow was a large clump of swamp grass that was growing on the north side of the overflow. Only about a fourth of the grate was obstructed by the grass, and essentially none by the trash, so yesterday's submerging of the overflow was due primarily to the large, sudden influx of water. I decided that there was really no reason I couldn't clean the overflow out while I was standing there on the ledge, so I did just that - got rid of the few sticks and leaves, and went to work on pulling the grass out.

The grass had taken root in the cement itself, and wasn't easy to pull off - the roots pulled some of the rotting concrete with them. But working from one end of the clump, I gradually got it pulled out, and removed nearly all the roots, leaving the cement-work clean as I could get it. I cleaned all the moss and water-ferns off of the inside, using my plastic water pipe, and when I was satisfied that it was cleaned up as much as possible, I headed for shore, pushing the bushel-sized clump of swamp grass ahead of me. Once on the shore, I disposed of the swamp grass so it will not float out there and lodge in the grate and re-establish itself. Hopefully, it will be a good long time before the swamp grass proves to be a problem again.

All in all, cleaning the overflow proved to not be much of an issue. And swimming out there and back was actually a lot of fun - tubing is something I haven't done since I was a kid. The water is at an almost perfect temperature and clean enough to not be unpleasant to swim in. The temperature at the bottom felt like it was about 70 degrees, and the water at the top about 75, so the bottom water layers are cold enough to be an adequate heat sink for an air conditioning system.

Using the pond as a heat sink for air conditioning is something I have been thinking about on every hot day since I have been here. Since the overflow is about twelve feet down to the drainpipe, I could create a siphon to carry the water by gravity through the heat exchanger in the house and back out to the overflow for disposal. I wouldn't even have to pump the water - I would only have to run a fan to drive air through the heat exchanger. Air conditioning for almost free. I would just need a whole lot of pipe, an old car radiator and a fan.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:16:35 AM

Sun, Sep 19 2004

Adventures In Pond Management

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and I took advantage of it to get some gardening done. Like most days since all the hurricane weather in the Caribbean started, it was just gorgeous in the morning, and clouded up and rained a bit in the afternoon. I got some of the little pathway built through the water garden - about a third of it - by stacking rocks around the downhill edge and then filling the pathway with gravel and soil from the drainage trench project in front of the house. Both projects are progressing slowly, but I expect to make better progress now that I am done cleaning the North Forty of all the fallen branches. The gardener was over there on Friday and was pleased with the situation - he can now trim the weeds without having to use his very dangerous steel blade.

The afternoon rain began yesterday with a really potent lightning storm. Some strikes were very close by - close enough that the thunder followed the lighting almost immedately, and was loud enough that it hurt my ears. Fortunately, I had shut off the power and disconnected the modem, so nothing was damaged.

Today was another beautiful day in the morning, and again, by about two in the afternoon, it had clouded over. But the big feature of today's storm was not the lightning, but the rain. It was the most violent rain I have seen since I have been here, and went on for quite some time, so I took advantage of it to see how my drainage projects fare under heavy assault by the rain. The concrete pipe was nearly full, but not quite, and was exiting the pipe with such speed it could easily have swept away a small child. The water had filled the rather large barrowpit lower down, and was almost spilling into the street. I may need to expand that section of the trench. At the runout, at the bottom of the hill, where the barrowpit empties into the pond, it was in fact spilling out across the road. I am clearly going to have to increase the size and pitch of that end of the drainage trench.

While I was down there checking the runout, I looked over at the pond overflow, and was shocked at what I saw. The water level in the pond had risen so far and so fast that the waves were washing over the top of the overflow like it wasn't even there. The only visible evidence of the overflow was the tops of a few clumps of swamp grass that is growing around the edge of it. I checked the pond level and it had risen about four inches in just a half hour. This is a serious warning that the overflow is getting plugged up and needs to be cleaned out. And I don't have a lot of time, either - much more trash in it, and it won't drain fast enough to keep the water level in check. This was a real wake-up call that maintaining the overflow is not a problem to be neglected.

So I have a new top-priority project for tomorrow morning. I am going to go to the gas station and get a couple of tire inner-tubes, and then go to the woodcutter and see if I can get a one-by-twelve about ten feet long. I'll tie the inner-tubes under the board and pole my way out there, sitting on the board. If the inner tubes are far enough apart, I should be able to position the board right over the top of the overflow, allowing me to reach down, pull the trash out of the overflow and put it into a trash bag. Hopefully, if this plan works, it shouldn't take long to get the overflow cleaned out. I am also going to take a tape measure out there so I can measure it for a cap that will enable me to draw water from down below and improve the water quality, while avoiding the problem of floating debris getting washed into the grate.

As I write this, the rain has ended, and the water level in the pond has fallen enough that the overflow is again visible. That was a close call! I no longer can put off the cleanout project - that has to be done tomorrow, rain or shine, like it or not, no matter what.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:00:38 PM

Fri, Sep 17 2004

My First Theft

No, I didn't steal anything. It is the first time since I have been living here, that something was stolen from me.

When my gardener was out in the banana garden this morning, sweeping up the leaf litter, he noticed that the largest bunch of bananas that has been growing out there, had been cut. He asked me about it, and I told him that I had not cut the bunch down. I went out to have a look, and sure enough, sometime last night, someone sneaked into the banana garden and pulled down that plant, and stole the bunch of bananas. It was a truly enormous bunch - probably fifty pounds or more, and very large bananas - easily commercial quality. At current market prices, the bunch was probably worth $10 or so.

In looking the situation over, it appears that the thief entered through a section of the fence that is not properly secure, and the barbed wire can be easily spread enough to crawl through. So that means I have a security problem in that part of the yard I need to attend to.

When the gardener was finished, I headed in to town to the ferreteria (hardware store) to get some fence staples to secure the fence. Unfortunately, they were closed for inventory. So I headed over to the Sports Disco Bar to see the owner and get my weekly copy of the Tico Times. But she wasn't around. Nothing left to do in town but go to the grocery store and get a few things I was low on. I got a few things to make the trip worthwhile and headed back home.

Yesterday, I managed to get the last of the limbs gathered up on the North Forty, and between bursts of the afternoon rains, I finished stacking them into a pile about eight feet square and about five feet high. This stack was about a third the volume of the one I did last week. I put some giant bromeliads on top, upside down, to act as a roof to keep the worst of the rain from getting in and keeping the wood wet. Hopefully, a month or two into the dry season, they'll be dry enough to be ready to burn. The gardener was impressed at the quantity I managed to gather - I figure it is somewhere around two tons. Quite a lot, given that that quantity is only about four years' accumulation on less than an acre of land. The lot was cleaned up about the time the tenant moved in about four years ago. I am sure going to start looking for a chipper. That would be awfully nice to have one right now. But one way or another, I am awfully glad that project is done, and I can get on to other, more fun projects.

I have decided to go ahead and put up a ham antenna for 40 meters close in. That is the band I use more than any, and I have never had a good antenna for it. What I am contemplating should finally give me a good signal on that band for the first time since I have been down here, and it won't be that hard to do. The trick is going to be to get a rope across the pond - and there is a narrow part of the pond that may be just narrow enough that I can pitch something across it. If so, I'll pitch something across with a rope tied on it, and use the rope to pull the antenna across. I can then pull it up into some trees and get it about 30 feet above the pond - which will be about perfect for the antenna I have in mind. That will get me a first class signal all over Central America. For North America and the rest of the world, I am contemplating other antennas, but that is less of a priority.

My big problem in getting the antenna up is finding suitable antenna wire. I may have to have a roll of electric fence wire flown in from the States, but I hope I don't have to go that far. The electric fence wire sold here is just not very suitable - it is a poor quality alloy that rusts (really bad news in this climate), and it is too small a gauge to sustain an unsupported run the lengths I have in mind. The rest of the hardware is not a problem - I can get the coaxial cable at a shop in Liberia, about two hours away, and the rest of the hardware I can improvise from plastic pipe. Some of the hardware, such as the pulleys, can be obtained right here in Arenal - once the ferreteria finally opens up again and I have bought and used my fence staples.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:26:39 PM

Wed, Sep 15 2004

Independence Day In Costa Rica

Today is independence day. I woke up late, not trying to get up in time for the local parade - hey, I lived in San Ramon and saw plenty of parades and festivals there. I have lots of pictures, too. I figured that I would use the day today for pitching limbs on my North Forty, and try to finish that limb and branch cleanup today.

I was out there by nine, and was surprised, while walking over there, to see all the peones (unskilled laborers) who frequently walk past my place on the way to work, were out as normal today. I guess their employers needed them to continue work, holiday or no. Since this is a public holiday, a trabajador (worker) is entitled to time and a half for any work he puts in today, and double time after eight hours. Not a problem; my gardener is the only employee I have, and he works only on Fridays.

By noon, I was tired out, almost done but not quite, and simply had to quit. I figure I have about another two hours of work to finish up that project, finally.

I was surprised to not hear those darned little school kids beating their drums in the parade. Maybe they went to Tilaran to molest the locals there, or maybe in the provincial capital of Liberia. But the last Independence Day parade I did, in San Ramon, there were a dozen or more bands, from across the country in the parade of that seat of canton government.

Independence came as a bit of a surprise to Costa Rica. Guatemala, acting on behalf of the five provinces of Central America, and tired of the oppression and neglect of the Spanish crown, declared independence unilaterally and on behalf of all five on this day in 1821. Spain had its hands full with the Simon Bolivar rebellion brewing in its more prosperous and larger colonies in South America, and so it did not do much of anything about the declaration. With the exception of small, isolated, thinly populated Costa Rica, the Central American provinces, were working fairly closely with Guatemala, and were interested in coming together as a single republic, and were behind the independence move. Costa Rica, on the other hand, was so far from Guatemala and the whole political question of independence or participation in the Guatemalan republic, that it came as quite a surprise when, two months after the 15th of September, a courier arrived with a letter indicating that dependence had been declared, and Costa Rica was now an independent country. Independence had arrived, quite literally, in the mail.

That put front and center, the question of whether to remain independent or become part of the new Guatemalan Federal Republic. The sentiment in the colonial capital, Cartago, was to join the republic. The full-independence faction was led by the intellectuals and emerging coffee barons in San Jose, fifteen kilometers to the west. The sentiment was about evenly divided among the 55,000 residents of the new country, especially in the only other settlements of any size, Heredia and Alajuela. Cartago won out, and Costa Rica became part of the Guatemalan republic for the next two years.

It was not an easy time for Costa Rica. As isolated and neglected as ever, Costa Rica did not prosper in the new republic, and within two years, the new republic broke up, and Costa Rica became a fully independent country, now very much left to fend for itself. The full-independence faction had finally won out, and got their revenge by moving the capital from Cartago to its current home in San Jose.

Costa Rica is, today, a nation of about four million, about half of which live in the national capital and its environs, the rest living scattered around the nine provinces. It has remained independent through the numerous wars that have beset the region, and in 1948, it abolished its military (except for a small coast guard), after a civil war that went on for months and killed 2,000 people. Fought primarily over the issue of presidential succession, the civil war traumatized the country, and led to the resolve to never let it happen again. A new constitution was established, one of the most progressive in the world. Costa Rica today stands as a model of democracy in the region - presidential succession has been the result of free, fair and transparent elections every term since the new constitution was established a half century ago. That, ironically, is a record that even the United States can't match.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:41:16 PM

Mon, Sep 13 2004

Ivan Brings Rain

This morning was bright and sunny right from sunrise - unusual for this time of the year. It had rained a good deal during the night, but by the time I was awake, it had stopped and by the time I was up and about it was bright and sunny. There were a few thin, high cirrus clouds, but not much more, and from the satellite image, they appeared to be coming from Hurricane Ivan. All and all, though, it was a truly fine day to be up and about, and I certainly enjoyed the sunshine. So as soon as my international call was received and over with, it was out into the yard for me. This was a good, fairly dry day to go over to the North Forty and pitch limbs and branches, so that is what I did.

I found that I could make a lot more progress by simply walking in a pattern, and pitching the limbs toward where the next fire pile is going to be built, than picking up a bunch and carrying them. Even though I may have to pick up the same limb and pitch it two or three times, it is still faster than all that walking back and forth, and certainly a whole lot less tiring. Within two hours, I had cleared about a third of the property, and if tomorrow is sunny and dry, I intend to get a good start and try to finish up. I will love having that property finally cleared, so I can get onto other things I would rather be doing. I have encountered a couple of tree trunks laying in the weeds, however, and may need to have a chain saw guy come out and cut them up. I will certainly need help in getting them moved in any event.

I found two more leafcutter ant colonies in the process of walking my pattern, and I am far from done with the pitching project, so I may need to get some more Omitox bait pellets to kill them all off. Neither is a particularly large colony, but both will require more Omitox than I have left. I guess I need to go buy about ten bags and have lots and lots on hand - I suspect that given all the neglect that property has seen, it will take some doing to get all the leafcutters killed. I expect to go through this more than a few times before they are all gone.

While pitching branches along the fence, I noticed about five really large lemons that had rolled down the hill and onto my property from my neighbor's tree. These guys were big - the size of softballs. I was quite eager to take them home and see how they are. The tree they were coming from is a large lemon tree that doesn't look like it has been the object of any particular care. And yet it is thriving, producing large numbers of what looked like good quality lemons. I put the five in my pockets and resumed my work.

By about two, the skies had clouded over, and a light, misty rain had started - unusual for afternoon rains in this area. It was coming out of the west, also unusual, and I figured it had to be the result of the counterclockwise circulation around Ivan, bringing an outer rain band across Costa Rica from the Pacific.

After breaking for the rain which had become strong enough to be a bother, I came in and checked the U.S. weather service web page to see if my hunch was correct - and indeed it was. Ivan had strengthened and grown during the day, and the very outermost rain bands of Ivan which is now between the Yucatan and Cuba, are now circulating this far south, and bringing us this rain. So we really did get something out of the hurricane after all.

Well, I was curious about those lemons, too. So I cut one open, and to my great surprise, the fruit quality is excellent - not a seed in sight, and only a thin rind - the lemon was full of juice, and a single lemon produced, by hand squeezing only, almost a half cup of juice. I made some lemonade out of it, and the flavor was excellent. I sure hope that the "mesino" lemon that I bought at the vivero the other day is this same variety. If it is, I am going to be very pleased. If not, I may ask my neighbor to allow me to cut some budwood for grafting onto some Creole orange rootstock, and produce a tree or two that way. It is a lemon variety that is as good or better than any I have ever had, and to find it thriving in this climate is quite a surprise to me. My neighbor's tree is healthy enough, and the fruit quality good enough, that there is the basis for a citrus industry here if that success could be duplicated. Lemons, when you can buy them here, are very expensive and generally not very good quality. I think there is a place for a lemon grove here. It could make someone some money.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:28:42 PM

Sun, Sep 12 2004

Quiet Sunday

Today I woke up to a light, misty rain coming off of the Pacific from out of the west. The powerful circulation from Ivan continues to pull air off of the Pacific and across northern Costa Rica, directly against the trade winds that usually bring our weather off of the Caribbean. This means that our weather is still fine, and for the most part, dry. Last night we had a drenching rain, first in several days here in Arenal, and it continued into the early morning hours. But by nine, it was over and by ten, the skies were bright and sunny - very much unlike the usual rainy season weather for us. So far, this hurricane season has been quite quiet here in Costa Rica - not much in the way of the hurricane brush-by's that we often get, drenching us to the core and making us quite grateful that we are not further north and in the path of the destruction.

Still too tired to do much of anything requiring hard labor, I decided that today would get the laundry done and mop the floor, which it badly needed. I also got some leaves from one of my Anona reticulata trees, and got them washed and hung out to dry out. Tea made from them has been shown to have activity in suppressing muscle spasms, and has been used by traditional healers in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. That means they may well suppress my Periodic Limb Movement Disorder symptoms, and enable me to get some deep sleep. If that is true, it will be a great blessing - I haven't had a good night's deep sleep since I ran out of Parkinson's medication, and I can't get the variety of meds I need here. So we'll see if this herbal tea does the trick. I sure hope so. The leaves are pretty much dry now, and ready to use, so tonight will be the first trial. If it does, it will be blessedly inexpensive - and readily available - relief.

The coleus I planted in my flower boxes in front of the house about four months ago are getting too big - in fact, a bit out of hand is a better description. So I got some geraniums at the vivero (nursery) last week, and tomorrow I plan on putting them in the main flowerbox in front of the porch. They are some really nice varieties - a peppermint white and red variety, a deep scarlet, a light purple and a pink stripe, all double-flowered. Once they get established and grow up a bit, I am going to try propagating them and fill in the flower box. Until then, I will leave some of the coleus in place, but cut it way back, so it doesn't overwhelm the geraniums.

Tomorrow, I have to hang around waiting for an international phone call I am expecting, but once that is out of the way, and if I have enough energy, I am going to get back to work on the North Forty limb-and-branch clearance project. Yesterday I found another nest of leafcutter ants over there and got it baited, so it will be interesting to see if it is killed. I hope so. The others that I baited last week seem to be pretty much finished off. I am quite ready to start leveling the ground there, and that will require that the ants are gone so they don't build their heaps. I hope that I can get started on that soon, too.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:09:17 PM

Fri, Sep 10 2004

Ivan The Terrible

As I write this, Hurricane Ivan's eye is just coming ashore in Jamaica. Well, it is going to be a really bad situation for them. Being a category 4 hurricane, it is going to lay waste to a large part of the island. Can't say as I would like to be in Jamaica right now. But then, I can't say as I would ever like to be in Jamaica, being the gay man that I am, and given the fact that Jamaica is probably the world's capital of homophobia. The hate mongering is so bad that many of Jamaica's most popular raggae artists are banned in Europe, and murders of gay men are frequently encouraged in the music and are often uninvestigated by police when they occur. Somehow, there is some sort of tragically poetic justice in such a destructive hurricane going through that island, and I am tempted to point out to Pat Robertson that if God protects homophobes and places where queers are hated, He is doing a miserable job of it in Jamaica.

But here in Costa Rica, we were supposed to get a lot of rain from Ivan today. Didn't happen. As I had figured, the counter-clockwise circulation around the hurricane pulled dry, warm air off of the Pacific and across at least this portion of the country, and the winds have been out of the west all day - very unusual for us. The local weather bureau had predicted that a tropical low just offshore would get sucked in here with lots of rain as a result, but so far, no cigar. They were predicting enough rain to cause serious flooding, but when I checked the infrared loop, the Pacific low simply moved out to sea. Looks like it might be organizing into an Eastern Pacific hurricane, too. Watch out, Baja.

I was just too tired to do much of anything today, so the gardener worked mostly alone. He forgot his lawn rake. He borrowed my garden rake, which isn't terribly suitable for raking up leaf litter, so he used the hose to clean most of it. I would never have expected that to work, but while it was slow, it was effective. So I actually have a clean lawn, without it having been raked. He also forgot his sprayer, so could not spray my weeds. That will happen next week, I hope. Some are getting out of hand.

He approved of where I planted my new avocado tree, saying that the root system will get very good drainage there, and that was the main reason I had selected that spot. Avocados are very sensitive to standing water, and just don't prosper where there isn't really good drainage. He agrees with me that the location in which the tenant planted the small avocado tree I already had may simply be too wet and that may be why it is not thriving. I may move it to the top of the hill to see if it will do any better.

I took a walk over to the North Forty this afternoon to see how my efforts to kill the leafcutter ant colony has worked out. Well, I am pleased to report that there is no evidence of any activity at all - it appears that the ants are quite effectively killed. There were still a few bait pellets around a couple of the trails, but for the most part, the bait pellets were all cleaned up and hauled into the nest. Thanks, fellas. I have lots more if you want them.

My neighbor didn't fell his tree on my property on the North Forty after all. I don't really know why. I suspect that the tropical laurel tree he cut will be the source of enough lumber to meet his needs. It really was a big tree. So maybe there won't be any more cut after all. I had a good look at the situation with the trees near the power line, and I can see one laurel that really needs to be cut, but it was not the one pointed out to me. If this is the one, it is much smaller, and I really don't much care if they cut it out any time they like. It doesn't amount to that much and is too small to be worthwhile as lumber. It has a nice straight, long bole, but it is still far too young to be worthwhile as cabinet lumber. My ham friend who was interested, hasn't come by yet. I suspect that he is not all that interested. We'll see. I may not have anything to show him anyway.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:42:59 PM

Thu, Sep 09 2004

Lawyer Number Six

Today I am waiting for Ivan. The huge, category-five hurricane that is out there swirling around in the Caribbean, is due to brush by Costa Rica late today and tomorrow, possibly as late as the weekend. It is supposed to feed the stream of moisture that makes our rainy season here, and make the usual rains much more intense. We'll see. I have my doubts.

It seems that the usual pattern for hurricanes in the Caribbean for us are that they draw air off of the Pacific, which crosses this part of Costa Rica, and this time of the year, that air is warm and relatively dry, so Caribbean hurricanes usually mean dry, sunny weather here in Arenal. But this brush-by is supposed to be close enough that we should get some of the rain bands circulating around it, and if that happens, we should see sufficiently intense thunderstorms to thoroughly test my new drainage system out front of the house. It will be interesting to watch - haven't had a real ripsnorter since it was completed, so I still don't know yet if it is fully adequate.

Yesterday afternoon, I got the new avocado tree planted, and this morning it shows no signs of transplant shock, so I think I am in good shape. They are very delicate trees, almost as delicate as cacao trees, so I was concerned that it might not make it. But it is in great shape, showing no signs of stress.

I tried putting the SIM card for my old cell phone in the new one, and it didn't fly. SIM Error, it said. I figured it needed to be authorized by ICE, so that meant another drive back over to Tilaran to the ICE office to have them do that. Back in the Raider, and out along the mostly-patched road, to Tilaran.

The ICE agent in Tilaran asked me for my phone number, and, of course, found it was registered to my corporation. So he told me that before he could go any further, he needed to see a personeria juridica, the legal document that tells him that I am authorized to act in the name of the corporation. Sorry, but those are the rules, he said. Well, that meant yet another trip to Arenal and back. So I gathered my things and drove the 34 kilometers back around the lake to the house.

I found all the corporate papers and took them over to the only lawyer here in Arenal, a lawyer that I have not dealt with before. He wasn't busy and seemed willing to do it while I waited, so my newest lawyer, number six, took the documents and proceeded to draft the personeria. He got it all done, "i's" dotted and "t's" crossed, put the six timbres (tax stamps required for legal documents) on it, stamped it with his stamp, handed it to me and charged me $11 for his trouble. Back around the lake to ICE in Tilaran I went.

When I got there, the only agent on duty today, and the only one that speaks English, asked me to return in half an hour, as he was eating lunch. I agreed and went to the supermarket to do a little shopping to kill the time. When I returned, he took my personeria and passport, looked them over, satisfied that the personeria was OK (even though I noticed that the lawyer had misspelled my name), and took my phones to do the change. When he opened it up, he discovered that it is a GSM phone, and all that was needed was to move the SIM card from the old phone to the new one. That done, he turned it on, punched a few keys and asked for my PIN number to authorize it. Once that was punched in, the phone came alive and he apologized that since I had a GSM phone, none of the paperwork had been necessary after all. I was not really a happy camper, but hey, this is Costa Rica, and bureaucratic screw-ups like that are common and have to be taken in stride. It is part of living here.

Back around the lake again, this time in a driving rain. Once home, I unloaded everything, put the paperwork away, and put the groceries away. I grabbed some juice and went out on the front porch to sit in the rocking chair and relax a bit after all that driving. But within seconds, I heard the buzz of a chainsaw, and in a few seconds, a large tree crashing to the ground. It sounded close - and sounded like it was coming from my North Forty. This needed some checking out - maybe ICE was there, cutting down that laurel tree that is too close to their power line. So I put down the juice, grabbed the umbrella and walked around to the North Forty.

Turns out it was my neighbor on the north side of my property. He had cut down a tree just over on his side of the property line, a huge laurel tree, three feet thick at the base, that he wanted to use for lumber for his cabinetry project. The wielder of the chain saw, the same fellow who had cut trees for me, was busy cutting up the limbs for firewood, as the owner came by to chat. I confirmed what was going on. He asked for permission to fell a tree onto my property, and I said it was fine with me as long as he agreed to promptly clean up the mess, which he agreed to. So it wasn't ICE after all, and my laurel tree is safe for another week. I returned to the front porch to resume my relaxation, and soon heard the second tree crash. I'll go check the damage tomorrow. For now, it is time make another attempt to relax.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:46:37 PM

Wed, Sep 08 2004

Cell Phones And Lemon Trees

I needed to go to Tilaran today to buy some ant pellets and insecticide powder, and I decided that while I was in town, I would look for a new cell phone and stop at the nursery for the nursery stock I mentioned in the last entry. There are a couple of cell shops there, one of which has quite a selection, and I figured that I would get a better price there than in Arenal.

So just after breakfast, when the breakfast dishes were washed in the dwindling water (the aqueduct co-op had shut off the water to clean the tanks), I took off for Tilaran, half expecting to crash my way through the potholes for most of the way. Much to my surprise, the potholes had been patched a good share of the way - in fact, an odometer check revealed that only three and a half miles of bad potholes remain. The rest of the road has been recently patched, and the only potholes are new ones on those stretches of the road. I actually got there in only thirty-five minutes, a record time. I guess the road blockade of a few weeks ago was what was needed to do the trick. They are continuing to work on the road, and when I got to where the repair crew was, they had cut the pavement across the road and had dug a trench to install a water pipe. They were just putting the pipe in the trench as I arrived there. I expected to wait for a half hour or more, but to my surprise, the crew foreman signaled me to go around - driving right through someone's front yard! As I got back out onto the highway, I checked, and fortunately, I didn't do any real damage to the owner's front lawn.

Anyway, I made it to Tilaran and went to the Dos Pinos cooperative and got my ant pellets and insecticide. I then went shopping for a cell phone, and the cheapest I could find was a Motorola "candy-bar" phone that was pretty vanilla - no color screen, no fancy geegaws, just your basic cell phone. Perfect. The price was as right as I could manage - about $87. So I plunked my money down and walked out with a brand new, very basic cell phone. It has a smaller antenna than my old one - I sure hope that it has an equivalent range.

I stopped at the nursery and got some new fruit trees, including a grafted avocado. My gardener thinks that my existing avocado tree may not be producing simply because it is too old - it has some fungus in the trunk and it is not putting out any new leaves. So I decided that if I want any avocados, I had better get with the program and get a new tree or two in.

While there, I checked to see if they had some of my other favorites - the famous Llama de Bosque (flame of the forest), a very handsome native tree that, during the rainy season, blooms with bright reddish-orange blossoms, covering the entire upper part of all the limbs, giving the impression from a distance that the tree is on fire. Quite a dramatic tree. Unfortunately, all they had was a large one, that they wanted $9 for. And another favorite, the Jacaranda, that makes such a dramatic show of indigo blossoms along the streets of springtime Southern California, and the Cortesa, the national tree of Costa Rica, that, during the dry season, is a huge mass of dense, bright yellow flowers. Indeed, they had all of those (though the stock didn't look too good or was too expensive), as well as some new geranium varieties that I quite like, some beautiful varieties of impatiens, and the fruit trees I went there for - a Hass avocado, a star-fruit tree, a native fruit whose name escapes me at the moment, and a Mesino limon. Costa Rican Spanish has no words to distinguish limes from lemons - everything is a lime - so the locals refer to all lemons as Mesina limes. Well, Mesina is a well-known variety of lemon, but there is no real assurance that the lemon tree I bought was in fact a true Mesina. I don't really know what it is, but don't much care as long as it will produce honest-to-goodness lemons, which are hard to get here. The proprieter was careful to point out one of the trees in her garden with a couple of real lemons on it - complete with nipple - and she said I had the same variety, so I know that it is a genuine lemon and not a lime, which I already have. How well it will do here remains to be seen, but it was cheap enough - about $2, so I am not out much if it doesn't do well. We'll see. Lots of people grow citrus here, but the trees don't seem to last long. I will just have to work at it a bit and see if I can determine why and if there is a solution to the problem.

Once home, I went out to the North Forty before the afternoon rains set in, and put the ant pellets on the leafcutter colonies. I spread the pellets along the trails and around the trails' entrances into the nests, and hoped for the best. This was a new brand of Omitox, and I didn't know how well the ants would accept the bait. But I needn't have worried. It wasn't long before every pellet scattered near the nests was cleaned up, and most along the trails as well. I went back to the house and got two more bags of pellets, and scattered them along the trails and by the nest entrances, and within an hour, they were cleaned up as well. I have put down three and a half bags of that stuff, and still they cleaned it all up. I sure hope that is sufficient. It is a vast colony, one that has clearly been neglected for years, and has grown huge on the proceeds of the old man's garden. I hope that all this ant bait does the trick. I'll know in a couple of days. If it doesn't, I am back to square one.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:20:51 PM

Tue, Sep 07 2004

Big Tree Coming Down

Well, I had thought that I was pretty much done with the tree butchery. But it was not to be. Today, I was out cleaning up the fallen branches on my North Forty - that part of the property on the other side of the pond, when the ICE (power utility) powerline maintenance crew came by. One of their power lines crosses through a part of the North Forty, and they were there to clear the high limbs and branches of the trees that are interfering with it. It is about time - some of them are touching the high voltage wire, and the voltage has gotten rather unstable around here as a result. Glad to see they were doing the required maintenance.

The foreman of the crew informed me that one of the trees on my property is a hazard to their power line, can't be trimmed to make it safe, and so it will have to be taken down. It is forty feet high and with a fifteen foot bole that is a foot and a half across at the base.

Not that ICE's demand is any surprise to me - it is a big tropical laurel tree, and is close to the line and a good ten feet higher. In a high wind, it could come down on the line, pulling it down. So I am not surprised that they are demanding that it be cut.

I am not all that upset about it. The tree is overly mature, and has a lot of mistletoe in it, and is starting to grow root buttresses, so if it is left, it will become a problem in the lawn that I am going to establish there. There is some evidence that there is a bit of heart-rot developing in the base as well (and tropical laurel is prone to that problem), and if that is the case, it is clearly in need of being cut - and sooner rather than later. So I figured I would call one of my ham friends who is doing some professional woodworking, to see if he would like to buy the bole. In addition, my neighbor also would like to buy it for hardwood for cabinetmaking in his house. I wouldn't mind having a few boards out of it myself for valences for my steel shutters. This means that I have some negotiating to do. I calculated, based on U.S. prices, that the value of the bole is somewhere around $250, but it will be probably about a fourth of that here.

I figured that I had better get to my friend's place and let him know, so he could get a bid in. I called him on the radio, and no answer, so I drove over to his house, and he wasn't there. Afraid that he might be out of town, I went to the Sports Disco Bar, and talked to the owner to see if she had seen him, and she reported that he had been there not more than a half hour before. So I figured he was in town but nowhere I could find him. Nothing to do but drive home. When I got back to the house, I had not much more than walked in the door, and there he was on the radio, calling his wife. I called him and told him about the tree, and he told me that he is very interested, and would be over in a day or two to have a look and measure it up and give me a bid on it.

Anyway, the limb clearing project is proceeding, if a bit slowly. I have built a truly huge pile of limbs, more than eight feet high and about ten feet square, carefully piled in a criss-cross fashion with lots of air space so that they can more easily dry out. I will probably wait to burn them when the rainy season is over with, and they have had several days without rain during which they can dry out thoroughly. In addition, I placed the limbs from one of the trees trimmed by the ICE crew, upside down on the top of the pile. This species has huge leaves, and placing the limbs upside down, means that the leaves will act as a sort of thatched roof, keeping the rain from trickling down into the pile. Hopefully that will mean the drying process will be more complete when I am ready to burn the pile, and it will burn better than the attempts I have made at burning the leaf litter on the other side of the pond.

Whoever ends up wielding the chain saw, I am going to see if I can talk them into taking down some dead snags that need to be cut near there. If and when that is done, I will be in good shape for planting the fruit orchard I want to plant - the clearing that I need to do will be done, and the land will be ready for the trees I want to plant.

Since I have to go to Tilaran tomorrow anyway for leafcutter ant pellets (the local dealers are out of stock), I am planning to stop by the vivero (nursery) to see if I can pick up some avocado, cas (sour Costa Rican guava used for jams and fruit juice), lemon, cacao and Chinese guava trees, and perhaps whatever else I can find. I am also going to see if I can pick up some coffee bushes as well. If I am successful, I will have about everything I am looking for. I should have quite the fruit orchard once it is all in.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:13:08 PM

Mon, Sep 06 2004

Back To Normal Around Here

Things are pretty much back to normal around here, as if they had somehow changed during the strike last week. There have been a lot of rumors about the strike, most suggesting that it was intervention from the outside. Whether or not that is true is hard to say, based on the available evidence. But nothing much has changed, so if there was outside influence, their objectives have largely not been met.

So I am doing what I have normally been doing - getting some yard work done. My project of cleaning the large piles of soil removed from the street during the installation of the concrete pipe has finally been completed. It has been moved to the low spots in the garden, making them a bit more level, and the rocks that were in the soil have been piled in the water garden area for the walkway I am going to build there.

But before the walkway gets built, though, I have an urgent, and really big project going over on what I call the North Forty - the half of my property that is on the north side of the pond. Last week, I got the weeds all cut down, and, with the old man no longer gardening over there, I am free to get in there and clean up the place. And what a job it is. I have to have it complete, too, before the next weed cutting is due. There is probably two thirds to three quarters of an acre there, all of which is six inches deep in cut weeds and branches that have accumulated from the trees that are growing there. The large number of tropical laurel trees means there is a lot of branches and limbs littering the ground - that species is notorious for the large number of limbs and branches the trees drop. And before I can start having the weeds cut on a regular basis, I need to clean up the branches so the gardener can use his weed cutter. I have already cleaned up about a thousand square feet, and have created a pile of branches and limbs that is now six feet high and ten feet square. And I figure I am maybe one-tenth done. The fecundity of this place is truly amazing to me.

Gathering those branches and limbs is a slow-going process. Unfortunately, my health is not cooperating, and it makes the work very slow for me. I can only work about two to three hours a day on the project before I am just too exhausted to continue, and am not that fast when I am working on it, so it is difficult for me to really make much headway. Meanwhile, my neighbor, seeing what I have been up to, has started on his property as well, and in just one morning, had his property, a comparable area, pretty much cleaned up.

My immediate plan is to get the branches and limbs cleaned up to the point where I can have the entire property mowed close to the ground about once a month. Once that plan is implemented, I expect a lawn to form, and once it is filled in, I can decide where I can put some fruit trees. I have decided that I really want to get some exotic fruit trees, so I can enjoy an array of fruit through much of the year. I also want to get some coffee bushes to try making my own.

I would also like to refurbish the garden area that the old man has pretty much let go to weeds. Once it is cleaned up, itself a big job, I want to start growing my own vegetables there. Vegetables are difficult to obtain in this town, as neither of the two supermarkets have much of a produce section, and the produce truck only comes once a week, and so most people grow their own. So I am going to have to do the same, but I will need some help in getting the garden put in. I will probably task my gardener to get the garden area cleaned up and prepared for me. I also need to build a screen room to grow more sensitive vegetables, such as lettuce and tomatoes - there are lots of birds and bugs here that just love such stuff.

One thing I would love to get for the vegetable garden would be some sweet potatoes and yams. I have never seen them here, and I am not sure why, unless it is a problem with garden pests of some sort. But they were one of the things I liked best about Africa, and since the climate here is similar, they should do fine. I just don't know why I don't see them. African yams are another thing I would like to try.

Last friday, I went to town to get some weed killer to keep the weeds down on the North Forty outside the fence and along the street, as well as along the margins of the pond. All they had was Paraquat, a really serious weed killer that is hazardous around fish, so I may have to forego the weeds along the banks of the pond until I can get find some Glifosato - works well, but is much more benign. But at least with the weeds along the street, I won't have to worry about regrowth. Paraquat is what the U.S. government sprays on coca fields in Columbia, and it kills things dead on the first try. So once that is done, I won't have to worry about weed regrowth for months.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:08:02 AM

Thu, Sep 02 2004

Strike Over, Government Makes Token Concessions

The national strike that had promised to cripple the country last week and this, has ended.

Turns out that the strike simply did not garner enough support from a sufficiently broad base of people to really make a serious impact. Tuesday afternoon, when the power went off at about three, I expected to be without power through the night and into the next day, figuring that the striking crews would not come out at night to repair it. When it had not come on by eight in the evening, I went out for dinner to the one restaurant in town that still had power and was open - and I was the only guy in the place. Obviously the rest of the town wasn't much worried. I figured that the power would be on the next day when the workers got around to getting out a truck and driving it over from Tilaran and finding and fixing the problem. So after dinner, I came home to my dark house and crawled into bed.

At about one AM, I woke up and noticed that the ceiling fan was turning. Obviously the power had come back on, and that meant that the supposedly striking ICE workers were clearly working overtime. I knew that the problem was a blown line fuse, as I heard the line fuse explode when the power went off. Normally that takes about two to three hours for them to get fixed, but this took a lot longer - I figure, due to the strike. But it was still repaired during the night, and the power restored. Evidence to me that the ICE workers weren't taking the strike all that seriously.

Yesterday afternoon late in the day, I got the word that the strike had been settled. I didn't know the terms until the news sites were available this morning, and when I checked them, I wasn't surprised. Basically they were token concessions. The public workers will get an additional half-percent salary increase - still six full percent below the inflation rate, and the Riteve contract will be "reviewed" for its legality by the Presidential Ministry's lawyers. And the president has promised to "consider" the striker's objections to the Central American Free Trade Area treaty, which is pending ratification in the Assembly.

When I go to town today, I fully expect things to be pretty much normal. There wasn't much disruption here, and there wasn't much anywhere else, either. So it will be interesting to see if anyone talks much about the results or causes. I do know that Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, have been blamed in some of the rumors that are circulating, but frankly, I do not consider those rumors credible. Given what happened, and the way it happened, if there was any foreign intervention at all, I fully expect it would have come from That Capital Up North. But things are quiet here now. Thankfully very quiet. Costa Rica has gone back to being its usual self as a muy tranquilo political backwater in Central America. Just the way I like it.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:32:58 AM
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