Letters From Exile

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

Sat, Nov 27 2004

Weekend Plumbing Emergency

Well, if the rotten coconut wasn't enough to ruin my whole day (see the last blog entry), I was in the middle of fixing supper tonight when the cold water valve on the kitchen sink suddenly quit working properly - it started leaking prodigiously, no matter how hard it was turned off.

This was a problem, as it was well after the ferreteria (hardware store) was closed, and not just closed, but closed for the weekend. There was simply no way to get repair parts, and I could not leave it running all weekend, as even the noise of it running would keep me awake for two nights. Fearing that I might have to shut off the water at the main shutoff valve and turn it on whenever I needed to use water, I was starting to get seriously worried.

I turned off the water and took the valve apart to see what was wrong. Turns out that the faucet washer had developed a split, which allowed it to seat off-center, which essentially smashed it beyond usability. What to do about it.

Well, I gave it a good deal of thought, and concluded that the best thing would be to find a piece of rubber and see if I could fabricate a washer from it that would at least enable me to get by until the ferreteria opens on Monday morning. I searched the house high and low, and no cigar - just no piece of rubber that I could spare, that would be suitable.

It dawned on me that there was an old piece of vinyl drain pipe out in the garage, that might possibly be pressed into service. I grabbed the flashlight that I bought yesterday to replace the one broken in the earthquake last week, and went out to see if I could find it. Sure enough, there it was and it appeared that the wall of the tubing was thick enough to do the job - just exactly the right thickness, in fact.

So I used a hack saw to cut out a chunk, and then went to work with a pocket knife and a pair of wire cutters to carve it into a disk. It took about a half hour of careful carving, sanding the edge and cutting a hole in the center, but finally it was done. Looked pretty good, too, like it just might work.

I put the newly-minted washer on the valve core and reinstalled the valve core in the faucet. Felt right as I tried the valve handle. I shut the valve and went back outside to turn on the main water shutoff. No sounds of gushing water, so that sounded promising. When I went back inside, it was dribbling a bit, but tightening it a bit shut off the water completely - nary a drip. I reassembled the handle, cleaned my hands and washed the dishes.

Well, I have figured out why vinyl is not used as an elastomer for faucet washers. It is because when the valve is opened, the compressed washer slowly re-expands, causing the water flow to slow. It is necessary to open the valve a bit more a couple of times to keep the water flowing at a reasonable rate. But hey, at least I can shut off the water now. And with this emergency repair, I can get by until a proper washer is available on Monday morning.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:31:33 PM

All Things Foul And Cancerous

The so-called dry season we are having here seems to be anything but dry. I awoke this morning to a driving rain, and it continued on and off all morning. It has quit for now, but it is still overcast and could easily start pouring again. Soil in much of the yard is saturated and muddy, and that includes the lawn - it is so wet I hate to walk on it for fear of damaging the sod. And this is supposed to be the dry season!

Well, I wanted to get out and do a few things in the yard at least, couped-up as I have been with this alleged dry-season weather. So during a break in the rain, I went out and had a brief tour of the grounds to see how things are doing. My gardener yesterday planted some cuttings from his house of a small shrub in my compost piles to get them rooted - when they are, I am going to plant them in in the concrete blocks that are placed alongside the gravel driveway. Once they are fully established, I intend to train them into a small hedge maybe a foot high. I have seen this done alongside other driveways, and it is really quite attractive. And this is a particularly nice variety of this little shrub, one with a bright red flower that is bigger than other varieties of this shrub that I have seen. Most varieties are either a rather faded purplish blue or white - nice, but not as nice as this variety. I was glad to see that the cuttings are doing fine, not wilted at all.

I also noticed that there was a coconut hanging down within reach on my coconut palm, and it was brown, indicating that it was ripe and should be good for eating the coconut. So I pulled it down, along with the remains of the inflorescence that it had grown on. I got rid of the inflorescence, along with another that had no fruit on it, slogging my way through the mud to the yard waste heap, and went and got the machete to open the coconut.

As I usually do, I gave it a good whack on the side, lodging the coconut on the knife rather firmly. I then raised the knife and coconut quite high and brought it down with a good, hard whack.

Big mistake.

The coconut was thoroughly rotten, and the foul gasses inside the coconut sprayed the mess all over me. And I guarantee you, if you have never experienced a rotten coconut, you really have no idea how foul something can be. The smell was remarkably similar to vomit, but with an admixture of putrefaction and a bit of coconut mixed in. It was overpoweringly strong. I gagged on the retching smell, and quickly ran for the garden hose, While retching uncontrollably, I hosed myself off as quickly as I could, including all the mess on my clothes that I could find, and hosed down the sidewalk in front of the house where I had done the deed. I pitched the coconut onto a leaf-litter pile, and washed my hands thoroughly when I was done. I washed down everything I could find, and still ended up changing my shirt, but even so, I can still smell that mess. That was probably the most unpleasant experience I have had since I have been in this country. Next time, I will check the coconut over very carefully before opening it. I certainly don't want that experience again!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:56:10 AM

Thu, Nov 25 2004

Turkey Day In Costa Rica

Nice day today, it dawned bright and clear, and I sure would like to have spent the day gardening, but I just didn't seem to be able to muster the energy. So I spent most of it on my computer.

I spent a good part of the day on my newest web site content, polishing the expatriation advice page and a new essay, not yet published, on soil carbonization and how it could save the planet. It is just about ready, and I will be linking it from my index page in a few days. In the meantime, comments from the readers of this blog are welcome.

I decided to try out the new Firefox browser that everyone is talking about, and so I downloaded it from the mozilla.org web site, and installed it. Can't see that it performs much differently than the Mozilla browser I have been using, but the skin is a bit different, and a bit more confusing while I am still learning it. It imported all my preferences and cookies from Mozilla, so the transition was rather painless. I concluded that I really need to be checking my web authoring in Firefox, as it now accounts for about 7% of all the web browser activity out there. Sure glad to see it eating into Microsoft's market share. Couldn't happen to a more deserving company - and the success of Firefox against Internet Explorer demonstrates the viability of the open software / collective authoring movement. I'll set it to my default browser and use it routinely, and that way I will get a feel for how stable it really is, and whether there are any quirks I need to be aware of for my web authoring.

The successful download and install inspired me to do what I have been threatening to do for a long time. I truly despise Yahoo's buggy and slow chat/IM client (with its rather ugly skin), and so I have been looking for a good alternative. I have known about an open source client, called "Gaim" that has been around in Beta for quite a while but I was quite pleasantly surprised to learn a couple of days ago that it is now in stable release. So I decided to download the Gaim client as well, and see if the new version will work on Yahoo Instant Messaging any better than the beta version I had tried. Well, it was a slow download, from a Virginia site, but once it was finally all here, I installed it as well. I was quite delighted to see the result. The new version works brilliantly on Yahoo, and imports all the buddy lists, etc., just fine. And I was delighted to see that it now also supports Yahoo's chat rooms. I logged into my favorite politics chat room (..FURTHER LEFT in the Government and Politics user rooms), and sure enough, it works great. It also gives me the option of turning off all the weird fonts that people use, so I can see everyone's text the same way. That was worth the download by itself, but the best part is that all the bugs I have been putting up with in the Yahoo client are not an issue now. This release really is stable, rock solid, and works like a dream. And it has no spyware built in, and doesn't load ads. One of the most annoying bugs in the Yahoo client was that it would resize itself when a big ad image is to be loaded, usually causing the client to crash if I happen to be typing at the time the resize occurs. All that is an unpleasant memory now. I still don't know yet if Gaim supports the Yahoo webcam protocol, but that is not a big deal if it doesn't.

Some of the people I was chatting with in Further Left today wondered if there is a Costa Rican thanksgiving. Yes, there is, but it is (I think) in September sometime, but it isn't a big deal like it is in the States. They don't celebrate it this time of year, because this is the busiest time of the year for the campesinos (field workers), and it would interrupt work in the fields, so it was placed elsewhere in the year.

Anyway, I didn't do the turkey thing. The only place I know of to even buy a frozen turkey in this country is at the Price-Smart in San Jose, imported for the gringo Thanksgiving celebrations, of course, and expensive and difficult to get. So I didn't bother. Cranberry sauce is occasionally available in the bigger supermarkets, but not here in Arenal that I noticed, and some of the spices needed for proper stuffing are a bit difficult to get here too, so all in all, I decided it just wasn't worth all the effort. Tonight, I'll just fry up a frozen chicken breast and with some canned veggies and mashed potatoes, that will be Thanksgiving dinner at this place.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:38:58 PM

Mon, Nov 22 2004

Abolition Day Coming

December first is Abolition Day. Not the abolition of slavery, as most would assume, but another abolition, which looms large in Costa Rican culture and history - an event that was nothing less than a cultural watershed for this country. It is the day, in 1948, when Costa Rica formally abolished its military.

Other than a small coast guard, this country has no military and has not had one in all that time. Costa Rica has formally asked its neighbors and the rest of the world to come to its assistance in the event it is invaded, and since it harbors no territorial ambitions of its own, it hardly needs a military to assert its "interests" abroad. This tiny country is vulnerable, and it knows it - a large, well equipped army could probably sweep through this country in a week or less, taking control as it saw fit. But it also knows that any army its small population could raise would hardly be an impediment for long against a large and well-equipped invasion force.

Not to say that even without a military, it would not meet resistance. The Costa Rican people are patriotic and are fiercely proud of their country and the pacifist principles of its constitution. And many Costa Ricans would doubtless defend to the death their country and the principles on which it is governed, from an invasion. Any invading force would pay dearly - probably in the same manner in which the Americans are now paying for their invasion of Iraq.

Such resistance is not without precedent in Costa Rican history, either - the heroism of Juan Santamaria, a ten-year-old whose brave, knowing and voluntary sacrifice of his life for his country saved its independence and has made him a national hero as well as an icon among Costa Rican youth. And during the pacifist period, an invasion did in fact occur - Nicaragua, under the dictator Samosa, invaded briefly in the 1950's, and left when he discovered that Costa Rica would not be a pushover in spite of its lack of an army.

Today, Costa Rica's relations with Nicaragua are friendly on the surface, if a bit strained at times by the illegal immigration issue, and the fact that Nicaragua buys much of its electrical power from Costa Rica, but the bills for all that power haven't been getting paid with any regularity. Nicaragua and Panama have had very good relations for a long time, and have no significant outstanding issues between themselves. Indeed, they both maintain a sizeable international peace park along their common border and cooperate closely on its maintenance and operation. Issues regarding common border matters are usually quickly and amicably resolved.

The only other real threat to sovereignty, mostly coming from external subversion - principally spying and covert activity from That Big Country Up North - are not military threats, but have to be dealt with by other means. And make no mistake, Costa Rica does indeed have a secret police and it is active. But it is used primarily to deal with external subversion threats, not spying on Costa Ricans or people resident in Costa Rica. As an American living in Costa Rica, I feel far more threatened here by Foggy Bottom than by San Jose.

So Costa Ricans generally have good reason to be proud of their country and what it has achieved in terms of civil rights and humanitarianism. They have made enormous sacrifices to help the hordes of desperately poor Nicaraguan illegals who come across the border seeking to improve their lives - now fully a third of the Costa Rican population. I seriously doubt that the United States would be so tolerant of so many illegal Mexicans. So with good reason they celebrate the pacifist constitution and the compassionate, humanitarian culture it has created, by celebrating the abolition of their armed forces.

Which brings me to why I brought this up in the first place. Back before Independence Day a couple of months ago, I complained in this space about all the incessant drumming that the school kids do in preparation for the parades. Well, the drumming is happening again. Abolition day means parades, and that also means school kids marching in those parades in drum corps. So, sigh, it looks like I have another week and a half of this to put up with. But it is only a week and a half. And it will then be over for another nine months. But, nevertheless, I celebrate with the Costa Ricans, their enormous humanitarian achievements made against huge odds. And I shall always be grateful to them for their warm hospitality in welcoming me to their shores.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:38:49 AM

Sat, Nov 20 2004

Yes, I Felt It - No, I'm Not Hurt - Yes Everything Here Is Fine For The Most Part

Last night, as you may know by now, Costa Rica suffered a strong earthquake, 6.2 magnitude, centered a few miles southwest of Quepos, close to the Pacific Coast, at seven minutes after two this morning.

As I am writing this, a bit after seven in the morning, I have the local television news on, and it is reporting that five people were killed in collapsed buildings and one was injured, most in the Parrita - Quepos - Manuel Antonio area. The names of all of the fatalities have already been released. Services appear to be operating normally, apparently, and no bridges are out, nor are there any roads blocked or people still trapped in debris. One of the fatalities was in San Antonio de Belen, a suburb on the outskirts of San Jose, so apparently the shaking in the Central Valley was fairly intense.

Yes, I felt it. I was in bed and just happened to be awake, when the shaking began. It lasted maybe thirty seconds, and the shaking was fairly sharp, so I knew it was fairly close by. During the shaking, I heard some glass being shattered. Some time later, lying in bed and trying to get back to sleep, I felt a single small aftershock, barely detectable.

The shaking was not as violent as in the recent earthquake near Rivas in Nicaragua. That one was a 7.2, but was much further away, so while the shaking was greater in magnitude, the shaking was not as sharp as in this one - it was more of a rolling motion than shaking. I suspect that it was the sharpness of the shaking that led to the damage I suffered here.

Yes, I had damage. Not that it was significant - all it amounted to was only a flashlight that fell off a shelf, and the glass broke when it hit the floor. When I got up this morning, I had a look around and determined that the house made it through just fine - no evidence at all of what happened - no cracks in the walls. The flashlight is beyond repair, so I need to buy a replacement when I go to the ferreteria (hardware store) this morning. While there, I will ask if they have reports of other damage in town.

The television news is showing damage to the medical clinic in Parrita, and it looks like the place is pretty well destroyed. The manager of the clinic is being interviewed, and he is saying that they won't be back in operation anytime soon. There was some damage to the InterAmerican Highway near Parrita, but it is not closed - drivers are being cautioned to stop and drive carefully around the damage. An oil-palm processing plant in Parrita suffered significant damage, with the most serious environmental damage that I have yet seen on the news. Five tanks (from the appearance of the wreckage, I would guess to be about 10,000 gallons each) collapsed, three of which held water, but two of which held oil (presumably palm oil), which spilled out onto the ground on the property. A propane tank refilling station in Parrita suffered damage to its building, but they lucked out and no tanks or pressurized pipes were ruptured. The TV news is reporting that all Americans in the area are accounted for and none are injured. Most of the damage was in Matapalos and Parrita, and most was old timber-frame construction in poor condition to begin with, which was built on mud sill foundations. So the damage is hardly surprising to such structures.

What the long-term consequences, if any will be on earthquake activity, is too soon to tell. A review of the seismographs on all the local active volcanos revealed that there is now a series of small tremors taking place in Volcan Rincon de Vieja, located about thirty miles from me. Volcan Tenorio, the closest at eight miles, is quiet, but the most active volcano in Central America and the country's number one tourist attraction, Volcan Arenal, twelve miles away, is showing increased seismicity. If anything, this will probably increase, rather than decrease, the spectacular continuous eruptions there. So this earthquake may actually be good for the tourist industry in the long run.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:02:16 AM

Fri, Nov 19 2004

Stranded - Almost

The day started out with some rather nasty weather - cold and windy, with a light, misty rain. Fortunately, it didn't stay that way for long. By the time my gardener arrived for his weekly chores, the weather had improved considerably - and he went right to work cutting the grass. As I like to do when he is cutting the lawn, I use the time to go to town and buy groceries and the morning papers.

I had a bit of a surprise when I arrived in town today. The biggest soda (Costa Rican diner) in town was gone, and in the storefront was an appliance store, selling stoves, fridges, televisions and stereos. The taxi telephone was still there, and the taxi drivers were hanging around as usual, waiting for calls, so I asked them what happened. They said that Pipo, the owner, had shut down the soda and rented out the storefront. The manager of one of the grocery stores told me that he was offered more money for the rent of his storefront than he was making with the soda, so he did the logical thing - he shut down the soda and rented out the storefront. Well, I was startled to say the least - for many years, that soda had been the town meeting-place and one of the centers of social life in Arenal. It was where I had my first meal in this town, and I ate most of my meals there while getting moved into my house. And it is where I met and got acquainted with many of the people in this town. There is a new soda that just opened a couple of weeks ago, two doors up, but it is considerably smaller and doesn't have the sidewalk tables that Pipo's had, that made Pipo's such a pleasant place to sit and nurse a milkshake. It just won't be the same. Sorry to see Pipo's gone, but life goes on, I suppose.

Well, I went to the cooperativa to get my latest receipts for the bills they pay for me, and also find out if I could pay my marchamo (car registration) there. Unfortunately, no, I would have to go to the Tilaran office for that. But my gardener tells me I can pay it at the bank, though it will take them some time to get my registration and window sticker back for me. I may just go to Tilaran to pay it and get the registration and sticker the same day. And I need to go there to pay property taxes on my house anyway.

I got the papers and my weekly groceries, and got into the car to come home, but when I tried to start it, no cigar - wouldn't even crank. I noticed my neighbor two cars down, and I ran down there to see if he had some jumper cables, but he didn't. But he quickly rounded up about five guys who gave me a push start - and I made it home no problem. Investigation of the situation determined that the negative battery terminal wire was loose, so I fixed that as best I could without a new terminal, and got the car running again. I need to go back to town tomorrow, so I will go by the gasolinera and see if they have one. My gardener tells me they should.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got my receipts and looked at my phone bill. I have been spending a lot of time on the Internet, and figured my phone bill would be pretty high, but it wasn't - only about the equivalent of $17. So I guess I can spend lots of time on the computer and the internet, and not feel concerned about the cost. Good news. I need to spend some more time on the net than I have been spending.

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

Tue, Nov 16 2004

Cold And Rain Two Days Running

For two days now, I have awakened in the morning to a cold drizzle more characteristic of the Temperate Zone than the tropics. Temperatures in the night have been near the record low of sixty two degrees, and in the day, barely made it to the mid seventies. I have been going around with a flannel shirt on. Any colder and I'll be breaking out my sweatshirt.

It has been a steady rain, too, almost continuously since this temporal (storm) started. There was about two hours of intermittent sun mid-day yesterday, but that was the only break. This has been happening country-wide, not just here. We have been getting the wind that we normally get this time of the year, but it has been somewhat weak and intermittent, not the steady, fierce winds that we normally have this time of year.

This morning, AM Costa Rica, one of the web's best sources for local Costa Rican news in English, had an explanation. An unusual stream of cold dry air, straight out of the north, has been dominating the weather in the country, and with the collision of warm moist air off of the Caribbean that happens over the Continental Divide (which I am only about two miles from), the cold air from the north wrings all that moisture out of the Caribbean air, and the result is the steady rain. The rain will last as long as this unusual stream of cold air continues, but there is not enough experience with this phenomenon for the forecasters to be able to offer a good prediction as to when it will end.

This all runs quite contrary to the weather we should be having right now. The El Nino phenomenon ordinarily brings us unusually warm and dry weather - indeed, during the great El Nino of 1984, it didn't rain anywhere in the country for months, and huge forest fires broke out in the jungle - rarely ever dry enough to burn. The El Nino this year is a weak one, and should not alter the weather dramatically, but it should be abnormally dry and warm. That is hardly the case now. Since this dry season began a week and a half ago, it has been abnormally cold and wet. All the tourists who are starting to show up early at the airports are getting rained on.

The constant rain means that I can't get out and do the gardening and runoff control work I have been wanting to do. I am pretty much stuck inside. I wanted to go to Tilaran yesterday to buy a gopher trap at the cooperativa, but it was raining hard enough that travel is not a really terrific idea, so I shined that one on, hoping for better weather today. So I will do laundry today, and maybe spend some time on the computer. I pretty much got caught up on email yesterday.

Yeah, I have gophers in the North Forty - really bad, too. They are really tearing up the garden that I bought from the old man - they are eating the banana rhizomes, and causing the banana plants to fall over. Last Friday, I discovered a papaya that they had eaten out of which they had eaten the center, causing it to fall over in the wind. It was a big one too, twenty feet high. The gophers had eaten out the roots and up into the stalk as far as two feet. And my gardener tells me that they just love cassava - so I had better get with the program if I want to save my cassava crop.

I did manage to get the zompopas (leafcutter ants) under control over there, at least all the colonies I have found. No more evidence of activity so far. My gardener advises that the star-fruit tree that was denuded by them will probably survive - it should shortly sprout new leaves and be just fine, because it is fairly big - five feet high. Sure hope so - it was an expensive tree by Costa Rica standards - cost me all of two and a half bucks.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:26:31 AM

Sun, Nov 14 2004

The Dry Season Sets In

The weather has clearly changed. Weather has turned much dryer, and the dryness is a mixed blessing. I am enjoying the sunny weather, but I have had to irrigate for the first time since the rains began in May. Two days ago, I watered the plants in my nursery, and yesterday did the same. This morning, I have had a welcome rain, which has freshened things up a bit, and has watered the lawn and the landscaping, barely adequately. But it saves me a lot of work in having to water the yard. I am writing this during the first rains in a week that have been sufficiently intense to produce a runoff. And I am getting to see for the first time how the new drainage work that has been done in the street is going to work out. Looks like things are right for the most part, but I may need to make some minor changes here and there.

The change of weather has brought with it a huge increase in the blackfly population. Don't know how long this will last, but I hope it won't be for long. Bloody nuisance, they are. But this species is different than what I have been seeing - they are the same size and shape as the usual blackflies, but they are a smooth metallic green. In this country, even the biting insects are pretty.

The yard waste piles that have grown to rather enormous sizes, have gotten dry enough to burn, at least to a degree. When my gardener was here on Friday, we set fire to three of the four, but only one really took off and burned well; the remainder will clearly have to wait for another month or two. I may have to cover them to keep the rain out so they can dry thoroughly.

It turns out that the drainage trench cleanout on my street was done by the group that is getting ready to build a marina out on the end of the peninsula. They are fixing up the roads that are approaches to the marina, on the theory that tourists aren't going to want to go there if the roads getting there are really rough and frequently flooded. So they are doing what the municipality should have done, but hasn't in years. At least the roads are getting fixed up to a degree, and won't be flooded out in even a light rain anymore. Glad to see that.

Speaking of tourists, the Americans are back. Looks like they are starting to show up again in some numbers; Friday afternoon when I was in town, I was stopped twice by American tourists looking for directions. The Tourism Institute is predicting about a twenty percent increase in tourism over last year, much of the increase coming from the States - one and a half million tourists are expected in the country this year - more than the rest of Central America combined. The Institute is concerned that the airport facilities, which appeared strained to the limit last year, may not be able to cope, so they are taking some temporary measures, including adding more immigrations and customs inspectors to speed the tourists through the airports. Liberia's airport is rapidly growing as a destination, but the facilities haven't been added to since the airport was built eight years ago, even though the passenger traffic is ten times what it was then, and is expected to grow by thirty percent this year alone. The success of the Liberia airport is key to the planned Cancun-like mega-resorts being planned for the Nicoya peninsula. In spite of the inadequacy of the facilities, it is still a better airport for me - it is small, easy to get around in, and there is no difficulty in getting here from Liberia - just two hours away, versus four for the San Jose airport. The parking is easier, too.

There is an old rental house that has been for sale for years, that is two doors east of me, and has languished, empty, since before I moved here. But a few weeks ago, some contractors showed up and fixed the roof, installed new aluminum windows and have painted the place, leaving the house looking rather sharp. I figured that the new owner, who is apparently an American from what I hear, was going to move in soon, but that does not appear to be the case. Nothing has been done there for a couple of weeks, and I don't see anything else much happening. I did see a van parked in front of the place recently, and a few hours later, it came by my house, and the driver, his (apparent) wife and a young boy waved enthusiastically as they drove past. I assume they are the new owners, but I have yet to meet them. Can't wait to see them move in and clean up the yard, which has a lot of weeds growing in it. I suppose it is possible that they are planning to rent it out to snowbirds. Of course, the fact that four dump-truck loads of lastre (road base) for their neighborhood road work has been stored by the marina junta (partnership) in the street right in front of the house, is not going to help the new owners clean up the place. I would have been furious had they done that in front of mine.

That was one of two trashy places near to me. Five doors up, the other is a place is a combination home and an auto mechanic's workshop - sort of the Tico equivalent of a speed-shop. It is where the local teenagers come to get their cars and motorcycles souped up. I often hear them racing engines up there. I don't understand the teenage Tico mindset that impels them to soup-up their cars and motorbikes, either. There is absolutely nowhere within reasonable driving distance where the road is level and straight enough to race - so what is the point? Just the usual teenage testosterone poisoning, I suspect. The place is an eyesore - the house is really run down and dirty, and there are junked out engine blocks laying around in the front yard, but so far, the people that hang around there haven't been a bother to me. I wouldn't mind the place if they would just clean it up. My other neighbors haven't said anything, but I am sure they feel the same way. It is very un-Tico-like to be so unconcerned about the appearance; most Ticos take great pride in their houses, even very modest ones, and will fix up the outside even when they can't afford to do much inside. I suspect that the marina junta may lean on them to at least clear out the junk and at least put it out back. I sure hope so. It is the last real eyesore on this side of town. The work being done to accommodate the marina, and the issuance of titles to the former squatters up the hill from me, with the improvements in the streets and utilities up there, means that the neighborhood is definitely on the upswing. I Just hope it continues.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:52:12 AM

Wed, Nov 10 2004

My Tax Dollars At Work

Well, the weather today was outstanding. Slight chill left over from the cold front that ushered in the dry season last Sunday, was just what I needed for getting some serious gardening done, for the first time since my bout with the typhoid fever. And I felt pretty good today, so I got out there and got some work done. It has been breezy, just what is needed when working hard out in the sun, but not windy as it had been for the last two days.

First item on the agenda this morning - I went to see if there were any lemons or grapefruit that had rolled down into my North Forty from my neighbor's trees, but no cigar. Looks like lemon and grapefruit season is over for now. So I will just have to do without. But when I got over there, I discovered that the zompopas (leaf-cutter ants) had totally denuded one of the new fruit trees I planted over there about a week and a half ago - there wasn't a single leaf left anywhere on it. So I immediately went back to the house and got a bag of Omitox and went to work on every zompopa colony I could find - and I found about three. So hopefully they have carried all the little blue pellets back to the nest and put them on their fungus gardens - and if I am so lucky, in two or three days, they will all be gone. While there, I pulled up a cassava from the garden that had blown over in the wind, and bingo! I hit the jackpot - a really big cassava tuber that will feed me for two meals.

I noticed two taro plants coming up in the weeds, and didn't want them to get cut down the next time the weeds over there are going to get cut next week, so I got some plastic bags and a shovel and dug them up and put them in the bags. I took them to the water garden, where there is a taro that is doing magnificently, and planted them nearby, as a sort of patch of taro plants that will be a beautiful addition to the garden (plus a source of food, when they have grown in enough to need to be thinned). Taros have wonderful, huge, dark green, arrow-shaped leaves that are really spectacular, so they are quite beautiful in a garden, as well as producing an edible tuber. So I am looking forward to having that area filled in with those plants, as well as the tubers that will eventually be produced.

This evening, I was hearing the noise of heavy machinery outside again, so I decided to go out and investigate, and I am sure glad that I did. To my great surprise, it was a road grader, coming down my side of the street, cleaning out the drainage ditches on either side of the roadway. He cleaned out the drainage ditch right up to the intake of my new concrete pipe, and then about fifty feet downstream from the salida (exit trench) of my driveway pipe, and did a beautiful job of cleaning it out. The man was an artist, doing in five minutes with that road grader what I had spent two weeks doing by hand. I explained to him what I would like done with the runout, and he accommodated my wishes beautifully - the runout is exactly what I had been planning to do with pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. In less than two minutes, it was done. It would have taken me a week.

The drainage ditches have now been cleaned out on both sides of the street, from my neighbor's house on the east, around my property and up the hill on the west side. I expected that he would fill in the pothole in the middle of the road on the hill where the garbage truck got stuck on Monday, but that did not happen. But the heavy weight of the grader moving back and forth over the edges of the pothole seem to have broken down the edges and the rubble filled in the worst of the hole, so even though it is not filled, it is not the barrier to low-clearance vehicles it was. I am wondering if the reason that all this has happened was the fact that the garbage truck had gotten stuck, and had to call for a backhoe to come and pull it out. In any event, I have some freshly cleaned drainage trenches now. If it was the work of the Municipality of Tilaran, great - my tax dollars at work. If not, it is the work of the Arenal Improvement Association, and I am sure they will be around for a donation. No problem, I am quite happy to chip in. Glad to see my drainage trenches cleaned out by the local government - for the first time in years. Tomorrow, if I am up to it, the job at hand will be to tidy up the mess.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:51:07 PM

Sun, Nov 07 2004

Winter Arrives In Costa Rica

Winter arrived last night, at half past seven. I was sitting here minding my own business, working at the computer when all of a sudden a breeze came through, and with it, a noticeable chill. I got up and closed the front door, and door to the pila (outside washroom), as well as the windows. Within minutes, the temperature had fallen a full five degrees, signaling a serious change in the weather - at least as serious a change in the weather as we ever see here. It rained all night, and never warmed a bit. I got up in the middle of the night and put a comforter on the bed.

This morning, the chill was still in the air, and between bouts of light rain, the wind came up, building to a serious windstorm. It blew hard all morning, and continues to blow as I write this. A hard wind out of the east, it is typical of the winds that we experience here through much of the northern winter, from the end of the rainy season through most of January. So, if this weather means what I expect it means, it signals an end of the rainy season and the beginning of the dry.

I am pretty much ready for the dry season, having gotten most of the yard waste gathered up into four huge piles that need to be dried out and burned. The largest has a plastic cover on it, and I need to get covers for two of the others - will do that this coming week. Hopefully, in a month or two they will all be dry enough to burn, and I can finally be rid of them.

A couple of days ago, I was over on the North Forty and noticed that there is a fresh crop of limbs and branches that have fallen from the tropical laurel trees, that need to be gathered up and piled for burning. The good news is that the litter from all the weed cutting has pretty much rotted away, leaving a fairly barren ground, which will be fertile ground for grass this dry season, and a lawn will form, which will greatly reduce the amount of weeds I need to keep cleared.

I have been very busy on the computer lately. Ever since the elections in the States, I have been totally buried in work, answering emails from people seeking to expatriate. As many as ten per day, all of which required a good deal of typing to provide the kind of replies the correspondents were needing - mostly saying the same things, over and over. This was just too much, so I decided the best solution was to consolidate all the information into a single web page and put it up on the web. So this was the genesis of the second essay I have published since I have been living here.

This one is likely to get me in some more trouble with the Boys from Foggy Bottom, however. It discusses how to evade American intelligence, and they may not like that. But I am sorry; if they would simply comply with the Bill of Rights and not harass people who are simply exercising the rights guaranteed them under the First Amendment, none of this would be necessary, and I wouldn't be here in Costa Rica writing that essay. So I expect that the harassment I have been subjected to since I have been here, will continue. I will continue to be surveilled. The American constitution with its Bill of Rights will continue to be honored in the breach more than in the observance - and Americans will continue to flee the "Land of the Free."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:29:57 PM

Sat, Nov 06 2004

A Beautiful Morning

The breeze is out of the northwest this morning, bringing fresh air out of the jungle. The fresh northwest breeze is always a delight to be sure, and from this direction, it is coming from the Pacific, and is among the freshest, cleanest air in the world. As the air comes inland, the jungle imparts its own fragrances that vary according to the season. It is often a true delight, depending on what is in bloom.

Ah! I love the smell of the jungle in the morning!

It smells like....

Well, this morning, it smells like cinnamon rolls, actually. I have no idea what is in bloom over there, but it is imparting a powerful fragrance that I can smell from this distance, several hundred meters away at the closest. Most of the year, there is often a faint, spicy, somewhat cinnamon-like aroma on the air filtering through the jungle, and that is one of the things I really enjoy about being here, but this morning, it is powerful indeed. Add to that the fragrance of the flowers in bloom in my garden, and there is often a wonderful floral fragrance wafting through the house. The gardenias and snakeplant are especially favorites of mine, the latter producing a very strong fragrance almost identical to the orange blossoms of rural southern California that make that place so pleasant in the spring. The end of the dry season here is especially fragrant, as many species, including numerous fragrant orchids, are contending for pollinators, so their seeds will be plentiful in time for the rains to come. Right now, we are at the end of the rainy season, so there is an entirely different set of plants in bloom now, many readying fruit for the animals to scatter during the dry season to come.

The begonia that my gardener brought me as a cutting three months ago is now well established in the flower planter in front of my porch, and is putting on quite a show with its pink and white blossoms, with their yellow centers. And the geraniums that I bought at the vivero (nursery) in Tilaran a couple of months back, are also doing well there. They have finally gotten themselves established and are now blooming nicely, with strong, almost garish colors that visitors almost always comment on.

I have been enjoying the seasonal change in the bird visitors to my garden, too. The blue-gray tanagers are mostly gone now, and have been replaced by jay magpies, a large and gorgeous powder-blue and white bird with black trim and an incredible head crest of quail-like feathers. Like most members of the jay family, they are incredibly bold, landing on my security grates and picking at the dead bugs in the window screens - even when they can see me in the room. I have also seen a flock of northern (baltimore) orioles, which have come here to Costa Rica for the winter. There have also been flocks of parrots flying overhead recently, but silhouetted against the sky, I can't tell which species they are. And the omnipresent Montezuma oropendulas, a very exotic-looking tropical bird with a bright yellow tail, and an exotic, liquid gurgle of a call to match the exotic looks. I greet them with mixed feelings - they are a delight to see and watch, but they also love to eat fruit from my trees as well. And then there is the ever-present toucans, in this case a flock of toucanets that I saw yesterday in the mango tree next to the porch. Of course, there are the always-present flycatchers with their bright, almost florescent yellow breasts. And red-rumped tanagers, a bird that is brightly colored with a mix of coal-black and scarlet red, are increasingly common now. I have also spotted a green mango hummingbird - only the second kind of hummingbird I have seen here in Arenal, in spite of the three pages of them in the guide book. I don't know why I don't see more, except that the resident rufous-tailed hummingbirds that live in my mango trees seem to be very aggressive at driving off intruders from their territories.

And lest I forget the butterflies, the blue morphos are out, and have been quite common lately. I have noticed at least three varieties, of various sizes and with varying amounts of their trademark bright metallic blue that makes them so famous. I often see them several times a day. I see them most often on bright sunny days - maybe they are using the sun to show off their stunning beauty. There is also a brilliant yellow butterfly, quite large, that seem to be attracted to the orange-yellow flowers of the poinciana shrubs in front of the house. There are several species of small but rather striking black butterflies, some with a white or yellow stripe across their wings, and one with a scarlet red patch in the middle of each hind-wing. I have even seen an incredible butterfly decorated with day-glow green, but with numerous, large transparent areas in the wings - looking like a living stained-glass window.

Yes, I love the smell of the jungle in the morning. And the sights and the sounds as well.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:28:46 AM

Thu, Nov 04 2004


The elections in the States are over, and the aftermath is becoming clear. And now, I am being overwhelmed by people seeking help in getting out.

It is becoming clear that the United States is headed for some very troubled times, and the few people in that country that are still thinking for themselves are beginning to realize that there is no future in that country for anyone who is not upper class, white, straight, conservative, adult male, Protestant (or conservative Catholic) and Republican. And they are looking at their options.

Yesterday, I had five emails from people who have made the decision to expatriate. This morning, it was six - and it is only seven o'clock in the morning! This is a bit overwhelming because each of these emails requires a detailed response that takes a good deal of time to write.

So I have decided to take the plunge and create a web page that addresses this issue. It is the only way I will have any time left, and be able to help the people who really need help and are asking me for it.

I have had a little more time to reflect on the consequences of the election, and have written my traditional Front Page Editorial detailing what I think the results will be. It is not good - this election will ensure that the trend towards neofascism in the United States is well solidified, and the neo-conservative Straussians who are running the show behind the public face of government in this administration, will have plenty of time to firm up their grip on power. That, of course, sets the country on an irreversible course towards hard-core, brutal, right-wing tyranny that, when fully developed a decade or two from now, will make Augusto Pinochet look like a democrat. Had the election gone the other way, with work, the Center-Left (what remains of it) might have been able to rescue the Enlightenment values of egalitarianism and the modern project, and with them, the American republic, from the depredations of the Straussian elitists that are running this administration, but that hope is largely gone now. My essay on why I left the United States talks about the trends that have led to that, and I think the trends I discussed in that essay are well confirmed now. Tyranny in the United States is now inevitable, and, in my view, all hope of preventing it is now lost.

Except for the horror that it will cause innocent people, including many of my friends and readers still living in the States, I think that ultimately, a hard-core, right-wing tyranny on the scale that was predicted by Daniel Ortega two decades ago, will be good for America. It will teach America a lesson that it has stubbornly resisted learning in any other way - that "it can happen here," and rule by the elites, while always carefully portrayed as democratic (the Straussians' "noble lie"), and will always, and inevitably, be for the interests of the elite for the elites' benefit - very much at the expense of ordinary people, in spite the lies and half-truths the Straussians tell themselves and the rest of us.

Europe had its fling with fascism in the first half of the twentieth century, but America has never experienced an uninhibited, full-on fascist government with no restraints asserted by Congress and/or the Supreme Court, and so it has always been tempted by the siren songs that the fascists sing. Now, however, that is about to change - and Americans are going to experience first hand what the Europeans have already been through. It will mean a stable, long-lasting, brutal and repressive tyranny from which America will not soon recover - short of a bloody and violent revolution.

It is truly sad that America has, except in its rhetoric, finally abandoned the ideals that it always talked about, for the mess of pottage that was promised by this administration during the campaign.

The assertion of those values - democracy, liberty and justice - has been used as an excuse by the neo-con Straussians in their "noble lie" to assert the authoritarianism that makes the exploitation of the rest of the world possible - and the rest of the world sees that and hates the American government for it. So terrorism is the inevitable result. It has been and will continue to be blowback for what Americans fail to see their government doing while they are not looking. And so America, cheated of its liberties and its republican democracy, won't even get its mess of pottage.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:34:25 AM

Tue, Nov 02 2004

Election Day In Costa Rica

Not Costa Rican elections, of course, but the American elections - which, in some ways, matter more here than the local elections do. Everything from trade policy - and the foreign exchange current accounts - and Costa Rican neutrality in the United Nations and elsewhere, all depend on who is in the White House.

The Tico people are well aware of this, and all have opinions, which they sometimes will share with their gringo friends. A couple of days ago, an ICE power line crew stopped in front of my house to get a drink of water from my hose, and they asked me, as an American, what I thought about the election. I made it every clear what I thought, and they seemed to agree with me. I think they realize that it was an American president, not the Costa Rican one, that was responsible for the Costa Rican endorsement of the Iraq war - in violation of the neutrality clause of the Costa Rican constitution.

So everyone here is glued to the TV set today. Everyone is watching CNN En Espanol, the Spanish language feed. They know full well what is at stake. It is not a national holiday here, but things are pretty quiet for all the people watching TV. Not much is getting done.

I am watching CNN today, too. Watching it on my computer, which I also use as a TV. The screen hardware has been slowly dying, and I discovered that the driver was set to "generic television" rather than LCD. I set it to LCD and changed the color resolution to 32 bit, and what a huge difference that made! I now have a screen that is almost looking like normal. Maybe I can squeeze a few more months out of this computer screen.

I woke up today to the sounds of heavy equipment outside my front door. I quickly dressed so I could open my window and look out - and found that a road grader was working the road on the hillside across the street from my house. The fellow who runs the cattle in front of my house was out there, telling the grader operator what he wanted done, so this was clearly part of the project to improve the roads in what was once the squatter camp. New roads and new power lines, all they lack now is water. A telephone crew was out there two days ago, hanging new telephone cables on the power poles, so now those folks will have nearly all services.

My feelings about the road work up the hill are mixed. I am glad to see them get a new road, but all that new lastre means that sand and gravel will end up in my drainage ditch, and I will have to dig it all out and dispose of it. Not looking forward to that.

My neighbor on the North Forty has two citrus trees, both of which are bearing now - and dropping fruit. That fruit rolls down the rather steep hill onto my property, so I am happy to go out there and clean up the fruit - one tree is a lemon and the other is a grapefruit. The lemons, as discussed here before, are absolutely excellent - huge, with lots of juice and not a seed in sight, but the grapefruit are not as good. It appears to be an old-fashioned variety, white-fleshed, very flavorful, but totally loaded with seeds. Each segment has a half dozen or more, and by the time it is de-seeded, there are probably a half-cup of seeds in each fruit. But having grapefruit is worth the effort to me, so I am happy to take the time to de-seed them. And I certainly enjoy the lemonade from the lemons.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:20:52 AM
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