Today was evidence of some of the glaring challenges of living in Costa Rica. I awoke when the electricity hiccuped and shut off my VPAP machine. Little did I know that small electrical skip-jump-hop also meant that the telephone and internet died suddenly in the tiny town of Copey.
I've been here a week today and I have to admit it hasn't been as easy and charming as I fantasized in my frenzied rush to remodel the house and get here. Copey is lovely, a tiny town of tin-roofed ramshackle houses painted a fantastical array of pastel pinks, blues, yellows and every other shade suitable for the grand Victorian homes in San Franciso. It sits in a valley, surrounded by mountains so steep that the clouds obscure the mountain tops. There's a beautifully landscaped community soccer field, an antique Catholic church wearing peeling yellow paint the same shade as butter, there are terraced apple orchards on the mountain slopes and even farm animals on those tilted meadows.
Most of the locals I've met seem to be very nice, if devoid of much English. I am forced to use more Spanish than I anticipated every single day. There's a small store, the contents of which would not be out of place in an American 7-11. We stop there daily for fruit juice and snacks as we wander the town on foot since our car is being shipped overseas right now. There's one nice restaurant we visit daily for freshly squeezed local apple juice, that is when it's actually open and not on the distinctive Tico Time.
Tico Time is a tricky thing. It means that people here don't always stick with posted times, preferring to operate their lives and businesses when they feel like it instead of on schedule.
Stray dogs wander the streets and it's not unusual to see roaming cows, chickens, horses and the rare cat. The streets are rutted and patched, but still nowhere near as awful as those leading up into the mountains out of town. We took a treacherous ride with a local teacher twice upon twisting, winding roads filled with potholes up into the mountain communities in the clouds to judge at school spelling bees.
Twice now Jim and I have judged at local community school spelling bees on the grand round leading to the area spelling champ and we're slated to judge the regional and finals at the end of next month. The spelling bees have been a lot more fun that I anticipated, smiling school children wearing a grand array of elaborate hairstyles and pretty starched uniforms. We're both treated like celebrities at these things, asked to get up and speak about our lives briefly before being given beautiful gift baskets stuffed with local fruits, candy and houseplants.
Jim has been teaching his classes religiously, sometimes for long hours. I usually come with him to the school, sitting in another part of the lone classroom working on posting for No Longer Quivering since the english language school has the strongest internet connection in town.
We're going to Santa Maria today, a much bigger town, to convert dollars to colones, make a bank deposit and for me to get a few extras we need in our tiny apartment in the local guesthouse. That means a bus ride up over these mountains over hairpin curves, steep dropoffs into the valley and past a beautiful waterfall.
The apartment isn't much. It's bare bones, one medium sized room with a closet, a bed, a nightstand and a desk. We do have a private bath, with what I always laughingly refer to as the 'Suicide Shower', one of those Latin American horror shows with electrical wires affixed to the showerhead so that if you time it exactly right you might get a few minutes of lukewarm water instead of bone-chilling icy needles pouring onto you.
And it's cold here at night. Very cold, like maybe in the 40s or 50s degree range. We sleep under a pile of blankets, six or so, huddling together like little puppies trying to steal each others body heat to stay warm. I didn't bring enough warm clothing since my only experiences with Costa Rica is the tropical heat, so I'm wearing my lone pair of jeans, unwashed, every single day with my lone sweater.
The food here has been a continuing problem for me, our landlady, who also fixes all our meals, has no idea about nutrition and carbs. Since having all those bouts of MRSA and having to find ways to control my blood sugar flares I've been vigilant in what I eat. I did well our last trip here, but had much more control over what we were eating and were eating clean, no processes foods. Our landlady is all processed foods and uber-carbs. I saw the family and noticed that everyone is pretty large, figured out quickly that it's the way they eat. I had to have several conversations with her about what I need to keep well.
She tries, but it's been frustrating when you explain to her more than once that you cannot have french fries, noodles, beans and rice all at the same time and she immediately serves you soup containing a sliver of chicken, two types of noodles, potatoes and rice at the same time. This family is eating meals that are comprised of perhaps 90 percent carbs! I see this as the terrible eating habits of America infiltrating another culture.
It kind of shocks me how incredibly bad for you most of the food here is. Our guesthouse host also runs a bakery, a soda (small snack bar) and has apple orchards plus avocado orchards here, yet she virtually never serves us anything like avocado, apples or bread. I've had a few bad reactions to some of the processed things, like something she served one night that tasted like strawberry flavored Nestle Quik powder.
I have had a number of things when I go out and about I've never had before, like fresh passion fruit, the best fried fish ever, raw sugar cane juice, every type of juice imaginable. Some of the fruit I have back at our apartment are things I don't even know the name for. So the food here isn't entirely bad, there are some great things to eat, just not where we're staying.
I'm still struggling with my asthma because of the high altitudes and the fact that it has literally rained for days here. The rains are affecting my moods, it's depressing and since the house and nowhere else has anything like heaters or air conditioning when it rains here for hours on end everything you own is quite damp. I've had underwear that's been washed and hanging to dry for three days now in the shower. Speaking of which, the bathroom is constructed of all corrugated plastic panels, sort of a sturdy version of those huge political signs that sprout on American lawns during voting season.
But this is just temporary. There is light at the end of the tunnel, we leave for a few weeks on Monday, going to house hunt near the beach. It will be warm, there will be better meals and I can wear the pile of thin cotton beach dresses and shorts I packed. When we get back to Copey it will be only for a week