Letters From Exile

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

Thu, Apr 28 2005

The Dogs Of Subversion

The weather here in Arenal continues to be its sunny, dry, best weather of the year. Other than a thunderstorm on Tuesday afternoon and a light rain most of the following night, the weather has been hot, dry and ruthlessly sunny. I have been sprinkling the lawn and garden most of the week, and there's no evidence the heat will break anytime soon, even though the rainy season is due.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a day-long visit from one of the readers of this blog, a man who has recently purchased a property here in Arenal, and dropped by for a visit. We ended up doing lunch, getting some phone calls to the States made, and visiting some mutual friends. It was a long day, but a very enjoyable one. Glad for the visit, and I encourage anyone who will be visiting the area to contact me. Always enjoy meeting readers of my web page.

Much of the last few days was spent tracking down some information and following up on rumors. Seems that there has been some civil disturbances in Nicaragua, which began just two days after I returned from there two weeks ago.

There have been several items in the Tico Times, the local English-language weekly here, and a lot of discussion on the local television news as well as the Spanish-language press. There is, apparently, a new right-wing activist group which has sprung up in Managua, a group calling itself "Por Nicaragua" (for Nicaragua), which apparently consists of a few hundred mostly middle-class residents of Managua. They were formed for the purpose of opposing some constitutional changes pushed through the legislature recently, which favor the opposition to President Belanos, a right-wing president who enjoys the favor of Washington. The president enjoys the support of only 17 members in the National Assembly, and is opposed by the police, most of the military, and the public - his approval ratings are abysmally low.

But he does enjoy the support of the Bush administration. And in this part of the world, that is what counts. One report suggested that if the riots got serious enough (and Tuesday, Belanos was assaulted by rioters as he went into the streets to try to meet with them), that maybe, just maybe, he would declare a state of emergency - and, oh, by the way, use the rule-by-decree provisions to roll back the constitutional reforms that the right-wing in the country oppose.

All this suggests that there is possibly some hidden subversion going on. It is possible that maybe, just maybe, the riots, like most everything else in Latin America, are not exactly what they seem to be. I can't help but wonder if the appearance of this "Por Nicaragua" group, along with the coincidental rioting happening at almost exactly the same time, is being done as a means of destabilizing the country enough to justify a rule-by-decree emergency, which would enable the right wing to get what it wants, even in the face of stiff opposition by the rest of the country. We certainly live in interesting times. Times which encourage a lot of paranoid speculation.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:37:59 PM

Mon, Apr 25 2005

A Promise Kept

This morning it was time to make good on a promise to visit a friend in Alajuela, and got up early to take the bus into town. I drove to Tilaran, parked my car in front of the police station as usual, and got on the bus. The trip was enjoyable, bright sunny weather and little wind, with a seat by the window where I could enjoy a breeze carrying the fragrance of the dry-season flowers. There was little wait getting up the Esparza grade, climbing the hill from Puntarenas towards San Ramon on the Interamerican Highway. Few trucks that day, and the bus made remarkably good time going up the steep hill. At the top, the air was noticeably cooler, in fact downright chilly, but I didn't close the window, as I knew the cool would not last long. And sure enough, by the time the bus made Puntarenas, we were back in the heat.

I arrived in Alajuela somewhat early. I called my friend, but his cell phone was not on, so I took a cab over to his bar and restaurant, the El Rey Largo, located a couple of blocks south of the Cathedral of the Agony, on the east side of town, and discovered that he was not there, and the restaurant was not open yet, but his staff let me in anyway, and I waited there for him. When he arrived a few minutes later, we enjoyed a good visit, catching up on things - we had not seen each other in months.

By lunch time, I was getting rather hungry, and was ready to order a hamburger and fries, but the cook had not yet done any shopping for the day, so I walked with her to the carniceria (butcher shop) for meat and chicken, the verdurista (greengrocer) for vegetables, and mercado (supermarket) for eggs, sugar and a few other things. I enjoyed the walk around town with her, and got to know her story a bit - she had been recently deported from the United States after being held in detention for a month, because she was an illegal alien - it seems her parents had come to the U.S. legally when she was five years old, but they had never bothered to get her status legalized, and she had not worried about it all those years herself. But the Bush administration, determined to throw everyone out of the country who was not there legally, was intolerant of her situation and simply rounded her up and locked her away, in spite of the fact that she had both parents and four grown children living in the States. When she was unsuccessful in getting a hearing, they put her on a plane, with only 22 lbs. of luggage allowance (barely enough for a single change of clothes and some underwear as she explained it), and shipped her off to Costa Rica, a place she had not seen for forty years. As she had been living in the Cuban section of Miami, she spoke Spanish fluently, but with a strong Cuban accent - so no one in Costa Rica would believe she was a Costa Rican. For the first several weeks, she only had the single change of clothes - each night, she would wash the clothes she had worn that day, and the next day wear the other change washed two days before. It was a sad situation, and while very difficult at first, she is adjusting, though she still lost everything she had owned in the States, with no compensation. Her job in the restaurant has her working harder than she has ever worked in her life, and for less money, but with little other option, she has to do it, working ten hours a day for six days a week. She is working so hard she has lost twenty pounds in the three months she has been here. It is a terrible situation for her, but it is not as bad as she had felt at first, and is beginning to see some advantages to life in Costa Rica. Everyone tells her that Bush did her a favor, and I think she is slowly beginning to realize there is some wisdom in that. At first, she was desperate to go back immediately, but now she says she is in no hurry. Quite a little charge of Latino dynamite, she is the stereotypically high-strung Latino lady with a very strong will and a mind of her own - and a bundle of energy always going a mile a minute.

Back at the restaurant, she cooked me up a hamburger, and it was an excellent one. One of the best I had enjoyed since being in the country. Fresh-cooked fries, too, cooked quickly in hot oil from fresh potatoes, not the limp things heated up from out of a freezer that are served in the fast-food restaurants. All in all, it was a very satisfying meal and at a reasonable price.

After lunch was over, it was time to head back to the bus radial for the trip home. I had some difficulty in finding a cab, but finally managed to get one, and got to the radial with a few minutes to spare. The trip home was relatively uneventful, seated next to a student studying for his math exam. Back over the Esparza grade, down through the incredibly lush rainforest of the hills above Puntarenas, and back to Canas, Tilaran and, finally, home in Arenal. A lot of riding, a lot of chatting with friends, and a lot of fun visiting in Alajuela. It was a long day but a satisfying one.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:08:57 PM

Mon, Apr 18 2005

Emergency Fence Work

Yesterday was shaping up to be a nice, calm tranquilo day. Pleasant Sunday afternoon, with nice sunny but cool weather. I had been relaxing, doing some emails and other work on the computer, when I looked out of the window of my office to see the face of a large cow looking in at me. Carumba! This could only mean that I had a hole in one of my fences and the neighborhood cows were getting into my garden.

I ran outside to have a look. Chasing them where they wanted to go, I was able to find out where the hole in the fence was, and it turned out to be in the place I least expected it. Right alongside the pond, where my property boundary crosses into the pond is where the old fence had rusted away, and the cows broke it down and got into my garden. Well, being a Sunday afternoon, there was no way to go to the ferreteria and get some water pipe to use as fenceposts. I scouted around the place and found a short piece of pipe, about six feet long, that I could use as an emergency measure to put up the rusted wires well enough to keep them out for the night. As my neighbor drove past the house, I flagged him down and asked if he had the phone number of the owner of the cows. He dropped off his wife who tried calling the owner, but no cigar - he was not at home. So we walked out her back yard to where the hole in the fence was, and we stacked some tree limbs there to make it a bit more secure for the night. I slogged through mud so deep I sank in quickly up to my knees, but we managed to get a makeshift fence together to keep the cows out, and I then went home to clean up. I spent a good deal of time hosing down my shorts, boots and feet, and finally got clean enough to go inside.

This morning, I went to the ferreteria (hardware store) bright and early and got some pipe, and had them cut it in half - that would make it far easier to get home, as well as use for two separate posts. This meant they would be ten feet long, but I knew that the mud on the pond bottom would be so soft that it would not matter - I figured I would easily be able to push them into the mud as far as I needed to make them solid posts of the right height.

I had not much more than gotten home from the ferreteria when the owner of the cows drove up on his motorcycle with his eight-year old son on the back. He apologized for not being around last night (he was in Tilaran at the horse show), and we grabbed the pipe, my roll of barbed wire and my bag of fence staples and went to work, while his little boy went to work on some of the guava trees, eating the pulp surrounding the seeds. Cute little boy - and a surprisingly good cowherder, too.

As I had expected, it was no problem at all to push the pipe into the saturated ground six feet - leaving four-foot fence posts. We had to do no pounding at all. The owner of the cows was doing all the serious work - I was mostly just helping. In less than half an hour, he had both posts set, the barbed wire strung, and cleaned up the tools and moved to another weak spot the cows had not yet found. That one required setting a fence post of a limb laying nearby, and he quickly dug a hole, set the post in it, strung the wire, stapled it into place and it was done. As he fired up his motorcycle to drive away, I kidded him about being a modern cowboy, riding a Japanese horse. He got a laugh out of that. I enjoyed his quick response to my plight and thanked him for his help. And now it is back to tranquilo. I hope.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:21:37 PM

Sat, Apr 16 2005

A Change In The Weather?

Still tired out from the trip, I got up rather late this morning. I slept long and hard last night, and still it was not enough. But it was rain that finally woke me up.

It has been weeks since it has rained significantly, and I have been irrigating the garden from time to time to keep it thriving. It has been an unusually hot dry season, too, and that has added to the need to irrigate. I am beginning to wonder, as it has been raining all day, if this rain signals the end of the dry season. It is still warm, but dry season rains usually end quickly and with dry, sunny weather quickly returning. Not today. Periods of heavy rain interrupted by periods of drizzle, but it never did let up completely all day long

We have had several periods of intense rain today, enough to give the lawn and garden the good soaking it needed. But the gardener and I had burned several piles of garbage yesterday and was not done, so I greeted the rain with mixed emotions. I still have two small piles to go, and now it will be at least a week before I can get to them, if at all this season. If the rains have begun in earnest, it will be next year before I will be able to burn.

Yesterday, I unpacked and did laundry from the trip. I had stopped at one of the many ropa Americana (American clothes) stores in Granada and bought some T-shirt seconds, as I have been running low. For $1.25 apiece, they're a bargain, and they keep me clothed for next to nothing. I bought four while in Granada. Looked for some new flip-flops too, but no cigar on that one. Should have asked around while at the bookstore, but didn't think to.

Today it was mostly getting caught up on email and blog entries. Been a long time coming and a lot of writing had backed up, needing to get done. It took most of the day. So that is now out of the way, and I can begin to relax a bit. Life in Arenal is getting back to normal for me. None too soon.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:26:14 PM

Thu, Apr 14 2005

Up And At 'Em

Well, today began early enough. Very early indeed. I had been promised a 4:30 wakeup by the security guard, but I was already awake and with the lights on by then, and so when it didn't come, I wasn't surprised.

I had a quick shower, brushed my teeth and shaved, dressed and packed, and was out the door by five. When I walked into the lobby, I woke up the guard, who let me out and sat with me on the front stoop until a cab came by. It didn't take long - within ten minutes, a cab pulled up and I got in and rode to the bus terminal.

As I am a rather anally retentive person about being early, it was not a surprise to me to be the first to arrive. Another passenger, a gringo, was waiting for a bus at the competitor's terminal across the street, so I went over and sat with him and talked, a more secure situation than sitting on the stoop of the bus terminal alone in the pitch-dark third-world streets of Granada. We had a good chat - he was a fellow from Las Vegas, also living in Costa Rica, and also doing a visa renewal. Soon, other passengers for my bus arrived and I went back across the street to wait for the bus. The ticket agent never did arrive to check us in, so when the bus arrived, the driver did the honors and escorted us to our seats. We were off before long, through the still-dark streets of Granada, working our way towards the border.

As the sun began to rise over Lake Nicaragua, the bus arrived at Penas Blancas, and we proceeded to check out of Nicaragua. Our bus was the only one present at the border crossing, so it didn't take long - by the time I had made my way to the rest rooms and back, the bus was boarding. So far, so good. Looks like this is going to be a quick and easy trip.

Well, as soon as the bus headed for the border crossing, our luck ran out. The time change meant that the border was not yet open on the Costa Rican side. So the night's truck traffic had backed up for more than a kilometer between the border posts. Of course, we quickly got stuck in that mess.

At this point, the driver got on the P.A. and told us that it was OK if we got out and stretched our legs, as it looked like we were going to be there awhile. As I had my immigration declaration already filled out, I figured I might as well walk across the border and get in the immigration line on the Costa Rican side and check in while waiting.

There was a Costa Rican policeman checking passports at the border crossing, and he checked mine and verified that I was checked out of Nicaragua. I walked over to the immigration building, and as there was no line and none of the usual police keeping the lines orderly, I went in and to my surprise, found the "entrada" (entry to Costa Rica) line short and moving well. Within five minutes, I was stamped in and registered.

At this point, I figured I had hours for breakfast, so I headed over to the restaurant and ordered a Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto (black beans with rice - the national dish), ham and eggs and an orange drink. I was just finishing it up when, much to my surprise, my bus rolled past and parked near the customs post. The driver came in and informed us that the bus was here and we should get our luggage out for customs inspection. Well, what a shock that was! Apparently the transit police had gotten our bus out of the queue, somehow, and got it through the mess.

Once customs was out of the way, we got back on the bus, and less than two hours after arriving at the border, we were on our way. I was shocked to say the least!

In Canas, I got dropped off, and waited a half hour for a bus to Tilaran. And in Tilaran, I waited a half hour for a bus to Arenal. By one o'clock, I was home, safe and sound.

The house was untouched in my absence and everything was in order. Glad for that. Another trip over with, and back at home where I prefer to be. Home sweet home.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:03:27 PM

Wed, Apr 13 2005

Moving Day In Granada

Today was moving day. I had to get out of the old hotel and try out the new one to see how it was. So after breakfast at my usual haunt across from the Convent of San Francisco, and a chat session at the bookstore for a couple of hours, I once more headed over to the new hotel I was going to try out.

I did a check of the room and found it was quite adequate - really somewhat better than the pricier room I was in. I asked about getting out early in the morning, and they informed me that there is a security guard who hangs out in the lobby all night, so getting let out was not a problem.

The room I was shown was a bit musty, but didn't seem oppressively so. Well, can't have everything, so I went ahead and told them I would take it. I headed back over to my old hotel, got my things together and checked out, and went back to the new one, checked in and started to get settled. I noticed, however, that there was a decided smell of urine in the room, not the bathroom, but the bedroom. I went and got the owner, a cigar-puffing old expat, and took him to the room and pointed out the smell. He claimed not to be able to smell it, but agreed that his cigar was probably the reason. Anyway, he agreed to move me to another room, and this one had no odor at all. So settled into that room, I was quite happy with what I was getting for my $25.

I went back to the bookstore for the afternoon chat session, to be greeted by most of the same people who were there in the morning. All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. I told them that I was quite happy, so far, with the hotel they recommended, and things seemed to be working out.

Back to the Internet cafe, a quick email session, dinner at the $5 fajita place, and to the hotel to retire early. Tomorrow was going to start early enough. I needed to get in as much sleep as I could manage.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:47:44 PM

Tue, Apr 12 2005

Visiting Friends And Finding A New Hotel

This morning, my priority was to find another hotel room and get moved into it and save myself a good $8 per night. So, after heading across the park to my usual breakfast spot in front of the San Francisco Convent, where thankfully, the prices were the same, I walked over to the bookstore that is owned by a Canadian lady, and is the only source of English-language magazines in town. It also has a coffee patio, and has become information (read: gossip) central in town for the English-speaking community there. She wasn't open yet - her employees were sitting on the doorstep waiting for her to open up - so I walked back over to the park and sat on a bench for a while, enjoying the morning breezes off the lake.

When I was certain it was open, I headed back over to the bookstore and had a quick browse of the magazines. Nothing that was sufficiently interesting to cause me to part with my money, but I did sit down for a chat with some of the locals and tourists who had dropped by as well. It was during this conversation that I fhad unpleasant surprise number five - I found out that my usual dinner haunt was not open any longer, except on special occasions. Cafe Chavalos, a combination food service and business school for young men rescued from the streets, was no longer in operation for regular business. Seems there had been some problems with one of the teachers, not the young men, and with the young men needing to spend more time in school, they just couldn't manage to do it all. I was really disappointed. After a couple of hours of good conversation and catching up on the happenings in town since I had last been there, I posited my problem of the hotel and got some suggestions. One of the ladies there, who was leaving anyway, offered to drive me over to a couple and check them out. The first wasn't interesting, the second not within walking distance of a restaurant, but the third proved to be a hit. It had a decent room (actually better than where I had been staying), and at the price I had been used to paying. And it was only a couple of blocks from one of my usual restaurant hangouts, with several others nearby. Unfortunately, it was half past noon by now, so I was stuck at the old hotel for another night.

I took a cab back to my hotel for another shower, and with it over, walked around the corner to a little Nica cafeteria where I got a huge Nica-style lunch for the blessedly low price of $2.70. It was barbecued chicken breast, fried cheese, fried plantains, and a huge heap of rice accompanied by a beer - it left me stuffed me to the gills.

I went back to the bookstore for the afternoon chat session, and by four, it was time for another email session, so I did it on the way home. Dinner at another restaurant, and it was TV and bed for the night.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:23:19 PM

Mon, Apr 11 2005

Another Run For The Border

Today was the day my visa was due to expire, and so I needed to be out of the country by the end of the day, no matter what. I had been told that my bus would be arriving at the hotel in Liberia to pick me up between eight and half past eight, but in the past, it had usually been an hour later, so I didn't pay too much attention. Well, at half past eight, it rolled up.

I got on, and asked if it was going to stop in Granada, and assured that it would, I took a seat and settled in. Today is a national holiday in Costa Rica, Juan Santamaria day, celebrating the Battle of Rivas and the defeat of William Walker and his "filibusterers" in 1854, the first outright American invasion in Central America's history. Juan Santamaria was a ten-year-old drummer boy, whose bravery and martyrdom led to Walker's defeat and the repulsion of the American forces. He is a hero throughout Central America, but particularly in Costa Rica, where he was born and in whose militia he fought.

Anyway, because it is a national holiday today, there are few buses running, and they are mostly only half full. This one had a half a load, mostly of Nicaraguans, and I suspect it was the only one of the morning, and that is why it was stopping in Granada, when this particular one normally goes on straight to Managua.

The bus proceeded to the border at Penas Blancas, and arrived at half past nine. There was little traffic and so I was through formalities on the Costa Rican side in short order - we proceeded on to the Nicaraguan side in only about twenty minutes. At the Nicaragua border post, while waiting for our passports to be returned to us, I got unpleasant surprise number two. I encountered another gringo who told me that Nicaragua had, just the day before, once again tried going on daylight savings time. This is the third time they have tried it, but it has not worked out well either on the previous attempts, but this time they are serious about trying to make it work. Seems that they are dependent on imported oil for eighty percent of their electricity generation (compared to Costa Rica, which generates all of its power from hydroelectric sources). So, given the huge increases in oil prices recently, they're desperate to reduce energy consumption.

Well, this meant that instead of checking into the hotel at two, it looked like I would be checking in at three - my usual check-in time after all.

The bus did, in fact, stop in Granada, meaning I didn't have to get off in Nandeime and take a cab to Granada as was the backup plan. The bus arrived at the terminal at about two thirty on the new time. I went into the office and made my reservation for the return trip - I got a seat on the first bus.

Well, with the time change, the schedules were set back an hour, and that meant that the bus was going to leave at six, and I had to be at the terminal at five thirty. Oy vey! So early! To my poor body, this meant I had to be at the bus stop by four thirty, and I had to be out of the hotel by four, body-time. Not really pleased, but it meant I would be able to catch local busses for sure from where the Ticabus was to drop me off in Canas. So I wasn't really happy, but didn't complain. My only real concern was getting out of the hotel that early. I was sure concerned about whether the staff would be there to open the gates.

When I got to the hotel, I asked before checking in, whether or not the gates would be opened in time for me to get to the gate. I was assured that they would be for sure. So I went ahead and asked for a room. Unpleasant surprise number three - the hotel had been sold in the three months since I was last there, and the new owners had raised the rates, and not just a little bit, either. New rate for my formerly $25 room was now $31.50. Arrgh! Not knowing where else to go, I took the room for the night, figuring I would spend some time tomorrow looking for a new hotel. Yes, they had done some work on the place, but not enough to justify the price increase.

I settled in, took a shower and then went across the street to the Eskimo Ice Cream parlor for a cup of ice cream. I needed it - the heat in Granada this afternoon was unbearable - high nineties for certain, and no breeze off of Lake Nicaragua to cool things off, either.

At sunset, I headed over to the Internet cafe and did my email - and then walked to my usual haunt for dinner. Unpleasant surprise number four - it had a new owner too, and prices had gone up here as well. Dinner of my usual chicken fajitas with a papaya milk shake was $5.15. Not cheap anymore! Granada has learned how to extract money from tourists, just like Costa Rica.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:44:06 PM

Sun, Apr 10 2005

Time To Take A Trip

Well, it seems that the time has come to take another trip to Granada, and visit friends friends there among other business. So after getting my valuables hidden away last night, I got up fairly early this morning to begin the trip. The plan was to take local buses to Liberia via Tilaran and Canas, stay the night in Liberia, and then continue on to Granada early the next day.

Breakfast out of the way, I got the house closed up and called a cab. Or at least I tried calling a cab. No answer on the cab phone, so that left me with little choice but to drive to the taxi stand and look for one.

When I got to the taxi stand, there wasn't a cab in sight. I asked at the news stand if there was one hanging around town this early, but no cigar. Finally, a local Tico volunteered to give me a ride. So I drove the car back to the house with him following. I parked the car in the garage, got in the cab and rode back to the bus stop to wait for the bus. I bought a Sunday paper and proceeded to read it while waiting. There was an article about how the government is embarrassed at the poor condition of the road between Arenal and Tilaran, and how they had already begun repairing it.

The bus arrived a bit late, just after nine, but not seriously so, and got the passengers loaded quickly and left. And the bus then proceeded to work its way along the very road that was the subject of the article.

Well, as it turns out, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport had, in fact, been busy, but not black-topping the road as the article had suggested. They simply filled the potholes with gravel and cinders and apparently had called it a day - and that for only about the first five kilometers. No evidence of any serious effort to permanently repair the road that I could see. Just the usual promises and no real action. I suspect that after a few weeks into the approaching rainy season, the road will be as bad as I have yet seen it. The patches that were made during the last rainy season have for the most part, come undone, and there is a whole new crop of potholes along with them. Not a good thing for a road as critically important to the national industry (tourism) as this one is.

In any event, an hour after leaving Arenal and weaving and dodging the ever-proliferating potholes, the bus arrived in Tilaran. Once again, I had lucked out - the bus to Canas was waiting. I hopped on, paid the fare (about 55 cents), and was on my way to Canas. This road is a much better road, with few potholes and good asphalt the entire way. And on arrival in Canas, again I lucked out - the bus to Liberia was waiting, and I got on it, paid the fare (about $1.10), and was on my way to Liberia.

The bus to Liberia was half full, and was a fairly large coach, not the usual school bus, and was clean and in good condition. It was a pleasant ride, sharing comments with my seatmate, and enjoying the dry season countryside of Guanacaste, with its bright yellow cortesa-tree blossoms, now fading and almost gone, but with bougainvilleas in evidence everywhere. By half past eleven, the bus pulled up in front of my hotel and dropped me off.

Now came the first unpleasant surprise of this trip. Guanacaste is enjoying a tourist boom, one of unprecedented proportions, due to the increased number of international flights into Liberia's international airport. So of course, the hotel had raised its prices. Not just a little, either, but a lot - the room that had been costing me $24 in the past now cost me $28. Still the cheapest hotel room in town that had cable TV, air conditioning and private bath, but nevertheless, it was a bit much to see it cost so much more. Well, anyway, I settled in, and after a quick shower, went across the street to the fast food court and got a hamburger for lunch. Another rude surprise - the Burger King restaurant there has raised its prices too, though not as much. Lunch of two standard (read: smallish) cheeseburgers, a small cup of fries and a Coke cost me $4. Wow! prices are going up in Liberia!

I spent the afternoon reading and watching TV in my room. I enjoyed a wonderful movie on Cinecanal, one of the local movie channels here. It was "Charlotte Grey, " and was a powerful story of survival and love among resistance fighters in Vichy France. Dinner, again at the food court across the street from the hotel, was Papa John Pizza's calzone and a Fresca. That set me back $3. This Granada run is getting expensive!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:58:19 PM

Sat, Apr 09 2005

Dragged Kicking And Screaming

The warm weather of the dry season was broken yesterday and the day before by a rather chilly and even a bit rainy temporal (several-day storm). And my view of the eclipse yesterday was blocked by some of the most densely overcast weather in weeks. Needless to say, all I saw was some darkening - about the same as a really dense overcast, like a thunderstorm. The sky darkened for the better part of half an hour and then lightened back up. That's about all I saw of it. And I have heard (though I don't know for sure) that it was cloudy as well for the path of totality through most of Panama, so if that's true, I am glad I didn't go to all the effort of traveling to David for the festivities.

Have had a few pleasant evenings lately. A friend who has bought a lot nearby invited me to dinner, to be followed by a movie, on Thursday night. We walked from his house in Arenal town out to the restaurant on the Tilaran highway, about half a mile. It is a new place, put together as a fundraising effort by the Women's Association of Arenal, to help them raise funds for their charity work. The place was literally built by the women themselves - mixing the cement, putting up the bamboo posts, rafters, roofing, etc. They run the kitchen and serve the meals themselves. It is truly an amazing operation. I had heard about the place but this was my first experience in it. It is quite a nice spot, and I think it will be a hit with the tourists, as it is right on the main tourist drag.

When we got in there, the place was about half full, and we took the table we were shown, and ordered our meals. After a while, when nothing seemed to happen, one of the fellows in our party, a Tico who is a neighbor of my friend, decided that the kitchen was a bit overwhelmed, so he got up, went into the kitchen and started helping out. Our meals soon came, rather one at a time, but soon enough, and we had a wonderful time of it, joking with our "waiter" about his new profession. In real life, he is a contractor, and can't cope with disorganization, so he had to intervene. All in all, we're glad he did, and I am sure that the women were, too, as they were a bit overwhelmed, given the number of staff they had. By the time dinner was over, it was too late to do a movie, so we got up and started walking home, just in time for a serious rain to begin. Apparently, our Tico friend's daughter, realizing we were going to have to walk home in the rain, got in her Toyota SUV and came over and picked us up. It is big, but just barely big enough for us all to have squeezed in. But we got home without getting exceptionally wet. And by now, it was too late for a movie, so we all headed home.

Well, last night, my American friend was spending his last night in the country before going back to the States for about 9 months, and his Tico neighbor, our "waiter" from the previous night, decided to hold a party for him. I was invited over, and we enjoyed a truly incredible meal at the Tico man's house. He and his son play the marimba, and do so with considerable skill, so they were prevailed upon to play us some Mexican and Costa Rican folk tunes. It was truly wonderful! And the meal was excellent - black-bean refritos (a Costa Rican variation of refried beans, my favorite), a wonderful chicken casserole, rice, salad, fresh fried tortilla chips, and more. It was the best meal I have had in a very long time. We had planned, once again, to watch a movie afterwards, but time simply didn't allow. By the time dinner was over, it was well past nine, so we all called it a night and left.

Well, this morning, I got up early and downloaded my email. In it was the second inquiry in a week asking me if I have an RSS feed set up so he can get automatic updates on this blog. Well, I had known about RSS for a long time, but had not bothered to get it set up and running, so the time had come to bite the bullet. I did a google search, found some sites that talked about how to do it, how to validate it, and get it running. Finally, I have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st. century so my gentle readers can get updates automatically. I am set up to be pinged automatically now, in weblogs.org and so that should help my stats, too. If you have noticed, there is now an RSS button at the top of the site navigation bar. I hope it works for you. If it doesn't, well, I am sorry, but I can't help, as this RSS stuff is totally new to me. I am as lost as you probably are. All I know is that the validator says it is working. So I have to trust that it is. I wouldn't know.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:38:49 PM

Wed, Apr 06 2005

John Paul Wall To Wall

It was a long time coming, and it finally happened last Saturday. The death of pope John Paul, I mean. You don't realize how big a deal the death of the pope can be until you see it happen from the perspective of an overwhelmingly Catholic country.

The papers were full of the stories of his eminent demise, right from the moment he became ill once again. And from the point at which it was clearly downhill, little else occupied the attention of this country.

Once it finally happened on Saturday, people who were off work, and that was most of the town, began slowly filtering over towards the Catholic church. I was surprised that there was no bell-ringing, but there wasn't - people just seemed to know what was expected of them.

Well, Sunday and Monday, there was nothing else on the news, on the local television news or on CNN or even the BBC World. By Sunday night, I was thoroughly starved for other news, so I turned to the Internet for a summary of what else was happening in the world. Not much as it turned out, slow news day apparently, other than the Really Big Story.

I needed to take care of some rather urgent business in San Jose, so I decided that Monday, while all this was occupying the television channels I normally haunt, I would see if it was feasible to catch a bus from here all the way to San Jose, stay there for the night, and return Tuesday afternoon. So Monday morning, I got packed, got breakfast out of the way and called a cab. It arrived in short order, and I rode over to the parada (bus stop) to wait for the bus.

This is where things began to go wrong. Apparently, the bus schedules had been changed since I last took a ride to Tilaran. Instead of leaving at 8:45 AM, it didn't even arrive until nine. The driver took his own sweet time about getting everyone and everything loaded, and we were finally out of here at a quarter after nine. I believed there was a noon bus to San Jose from Tilaran, and so I didn't worry too much about it.

Unfortunately, when I got to Tilaran, I made the unpleasant discovery that the bus schedule had changed, and not for the better. The last morning bus to San Jose left just ten minutes before I arrived, and the next one was at 2:30 in the afternoon. This was not practical for me - it would put me in San Jose at 6:30, and that was too late to do any business. The return trip would have been even worse - in order to catch the last bus from Tilaran to Arenal, I would have to be in Tilaran by 4 PM - meaning I would have to leave San Jose at noon. Well, the last bus before noon leaves San Jose at 9:30 in the morning - not enough time to get anything done, and so that all added up to the fact that to do public transport the whole way, a trip to San Jose, with enough time to get things done in business hours, now means that the trip becomes a three-day ordeal. In examining the bus schedule, it was apparent that a day trip to San Jose, with time to get a few things done there, was possible only if I drove to Tilaran myself early enough to catch the 7 AM bus (arriving a bit after 11), and that would give me an hour and 45 minutes to get business done before leaving San Jose at 12:45, arriving back in Tilaran at 4:45. Monday's trip was out, so I caught a ride with some friends and came back to Arenal.

Tuesday morning, I got up early to try plan B - driving to Arenal, parking in front of the police station, and catching the 7 AM bus as explained above. I arrived in plenty of time, but it wasn't necessary - the bus was quite late leaving, a rather inauspicious start.

Things went from bad to worse - the bus was packed with mothers and their little kids, and I knew for certain what was coming. Sure enough, a couple of miles shy of Canas, a car-sick kid in the seat behind me threw up and filled the bus with that unmistakable aroma. I beat a hasty retreat for the rear of the bus hoping to find one of the last remaining window seats, and lucked out - there was one, and the window opened. Fresh air! Just in time to save me from a similar fate!

I stayed in that seat and enjoyed the rest of the trip, sucking in the fresh morning air, arriving a bit late, but not seriously so, as the driver skipped most of the usual bus stops to make up some time. I got my business out of the way, and got back to the bus station for the return trip just in time. I did not have to wait long to get on the return bus. Open seating this time, and I picked a seat with a window that could be opened. This bus had reclining seats, and I was so tired by now, I was actually able to sleep a good deal of the trip. I was back to Tilaran by four thirty, and home by sunset.

All in all, it was not a bad trip, and enjoyable for the terrific display of bougainvilleas in every front yard - in full bloom, and many varieties I had not seen before. Cortesa trees in bloom added to the show, and in San Jose, the savanna oaks for which that city is famous were also in bloom, big clouds of pink on almost every block.

Everywhere the flags were at half mast. Even corporate banners. This is a country that clearly loves its pope. Back at home I turned on the news, to the pleasant surprise that there was something on the news besides John Paul. Real news for a change, not just endless biographical retrospectives for a man for which I did not have much use.

It was nice to see what was going on in the world, besides just hearing about endless John Paul, wall to wall.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:40:44 PM

Fri, Apr 01 2005

April Fool's Magical Power Failure

This morning's weather was bright and clear and warm after a couple of days of cloudy, cool weather, which threatened rain but never carried through. Other than yesterday afternoon, the weather this week has been almost rainy-season-like, prompting an item in the paper to remind us that the rains haven't started yet and won't for a month and a half. Good news as far as I am concerned. I am sure enjoying this warm, sunny weather for a change.

Well, the bonfire to end all bonfires is long since out, but not without persisting for a remarkable length of time. It burned well into Wednesday, as I kicked the unburned log ends into the fire. Three days, it burned, smouldering most of the time, but burning with lively flame a good deal of it. As I write this, it is out, and just a heap of ash, pelted by a brief rain on Wednesday night. I have some cleanup to do, a few odds and ends that didn't get burned, and a small heap of branches that were too wet to burn. But as messy as the cleanup will be, it will be nice to have that part of my garden back for the first time in a year.

This morning when I turned on the TV to watch the news while eating breakfast, as I often do, I was startled to discover that the satellite receiver reported the BBC to be unavailable. A check of CNN International, and the same thing. A couple of other channels, and no cigar. What happened? I went outside to make sure my dish hadn't been swiped during the night, and it was there and connected. So I came back in, and set the receiver to channel 100, the preview channel. To my relief, it came up. So I started clicking up through the channels, to discover that all the usual channels were there, but not at the same channel numbers I was used to. I had to click through them all to find everything I frequently enjoy watching, and eventually found everything. In the process, I discovered that the new channel lineup also includes the National Geographic Channel, much to my delight - it means that I will be able to enjoy an old friend from cable in the States.

My gardener came late yesterday afternoon, informing me that he needed to go to Bagaces today, so he wanted to clean the yard last night. That was fine, but I had wanted to take him up to see a property here in town that a gringo living in the States owns, who has asked me to find a gardener for him. Well, that will have to wait till next week. But I figured that I ought to go find the lot and have a look.

So this morning, I headed over to my friend's real estate office, where the lot had been sold, and got the directions to it. Once I got up there, I was stunned by the incredible view. I knew the lot had been a bit pricey, but now I understood why - it had a dramatic view of the entire west end of the lake, with Tronadora and the hills behind on the far shore. What a beautiful view! I had a good look around the property to see what it would need - and it appears it will take about the same amount of maintenance my lot is requiring - about four or five hours per week. It has about the same amount of grass and landscaping as my place has. I am sure my gardener will be pleased - fairly easy maintenance, but in a beautiful spot to do it.

Back in town, I stopped at the barber shop for a badly needed haircut. She was busy with a couple of permanents and several haircuts ahead of me, and asked me to come back at one. I did that, and when I returned, just after lunch, there was only one guy already getting a haircut ahead of me, and so I didn't have to wait long. By the time I was in the chair, there were several children and women waiting, so I had got there just in time. As always, I asked for my usual number two buzz-cut, and as usual, she commented that I obviously don't have a wife to demand a more elegant style. But hey, I don't have enough hair to make a decent-looking style, so why not? Especially during this hot summer weather. Of course, a buzz cut doesn't take long, so she got my thousand colones (a bit over $2.50) without a lot of work.

This evening, shortly after supper, while watching television, the power went off. As my TV is also my computer, and it is connected to a UPS, I simply continued to watch TV, finishing up the BBC program I was watching before shutting things down.

As I often do during an evening power failure, I went out and sat on the porch, enjoying the darkened, star-lit evening. Tonight was a rare convergence of a cloudless night and a city-wide power failure, leaving the sky darkened enough to see a brilliant star-lit sky. It was a delight to see the stars again, accentuated by the blue-white phosphorescence of the occasional fireflies. It was truly magical, watching these lights while being serenaded by...

...All the neighborhood dogs. The streetlights here are so numerous and so constant, that when they actually go out, the dogs around the neighborhood don't quite know what to make of it. So one starts barking, and another one will chime in. That will get a third going, and a fourth, and a fifth, and pretty soon, every dog in earshot is barking its fool head off. I guess each one fears the other is going to invade its territory in the dark and they try to prevent that by making a lot of noise. On and on it goes.

Eventually, they got bored with just plain barking. At this point, some long-lost instinct deep within the primitive reptilian portions of their brains took over, and they start howling, as if they were wolves howling at the moon. Well, there was no moon in sight, but that didn't seem to matter. It wasn't long until a chorus of them had broken out, sounding like a bunch of second-rate coyotes.

After an hour and ten minutes of this, the power came back on, and as soon as the mercury-vapor lamps warmed up, the street lights were back on too. And one by one, the voices in the reptile-brain chorus went away. Peace at last. And once more, there is tranquilo in my once-again brightly-lit front yard.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:46:26 PM
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