Sunday, December 26, 2010

Feliz Navidad!

We've been hearing how cold and snowy it's been at home lately. We hear it was even a white Christmas! Sounds like this year will be a repeat of last year's never-ending winter, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.

It's summertime down here - literally! The schools here just finished for the year, and the kids are now on their 3 month summer vacation. Summer also corresponds to the dry season down here, when the rain stops for a few months and it gets HOT! It's a strange sensation to have Christmas in the summer!

I have not been my usual festive self this year, and consequently George has not been nearly as Grinch-like. Adalaya has tried to keep the Christmas spirit alive by making decorations for the house. The most creative, I think, is this tiny Nativity Scene that she made out of soap shavings.

As an early Christmas present to my friend-deprived child, we decided to "foster" a kitten while we are here. There is an organization in town who brings in stray animals, in order to spay / neuter them and then find homes for them. This particular kitten has a home arranged at the end of January, but until then it needed a foster home. Adalaya and I brought it home, much to George's dismay. But, who could resist this little playful ball of fur!

Not us!

We are thoroughly spoiling the kitten, but also trying to teach it good kitty manners. Adalaya named her "Elsie" because she looks similar to our black-and-white cat at home, named Elsa, but is also quite the meower and a little naughty like our other cat, Mitzie. She's very smart too, and likes to help Adalaya with her homework. Here she is telling Adalaya the answer to this math question.

We were invited to come to a Christmas play put on by the children of a local church. A guy dropped by our house with this invitation, and invited us to come to the performance at their church "down the road".

It sounded like a great thing to do, so that evening we walked to the church "right down the road", which is the only church we knew of. We walked in and seated ourselves and listened to a woman preach for about a half hour. She spoke with the fullness and intensity of the Spirit, and George thought she was talking in tongues, but I'm pretty sure it was just Spanish. Next, we thought for sure, it was time for the Navidad children's play to begin. Much to our surprise, the next act was a trio of Tico (Costa Rican) teenagers that came out dressed in full rapper regalia. With their baggy pants, over-sized hoodies, gold chains, bandannas, and sun-glasses (even though it was already dark outside) they commenced to rapping Spanish Catholic rhymes! It was at this time that we looked at one another and realized that we were in the wrong church! Although it was not the traditional Christmas event we expected, we were nonetheless moved by the power of the spirit.

On Christmas day, we did the usual opening of presents. This year most of the presents were consumable goods, such as chocolate and fireworks, with a few other small gifts - after all, we have to think about how we're going to get these things home with another month of van living in our future!

Another consumable present that we got for ourselves was this yummy chocolate cake from a local bakery. Great idea, George!

Here he is slicing it with our machete-of-a-kitchen-knife!

Christmas day was the most beautiful day we've had yet in Costa Rica; it was HOT and there was a beautiful blue sky, so we headed to the beach.

It was low tide, and we found this sprouted coconut on the wide swath of sand that leads out to the "whale-tail".

Here is the "whale-tail" formation as seen from above.

The rocky outcrop at the end of the tail is exposed during low tide, and many tidal pools are created which make for some easy snorkeling. It was Adalaya's first time snorkeling in the ocean, and she loved it! Here's the cute sea monster entering the water.

And here she is with George, exploring the treasures in the protected rocky pools.

We saw some amazing iridescent fish, urchins, and a lobster hiding in a rock crevice. Here they are again, searching among the rocks.

After a long walk home, a shower, a nap, and a little more of that chocolate cake, we joined a new Tico friend of ours for a lovely pizza dinner and a bottle of wine.

All told, it's been an unforgettable Christmas, although we have greatly missed our friends and family. We wish everyone a Merry Christmas & Feliz Navidad!

PS: Don't worry too much about George and the cat; they're bonding quickly. I was shocked to see this scene not long after we brought "Elsie" home.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Adventures with Elvis, Part I: Cookoo for Coconuts

George has befriended a "tico" named Elvis. Elvis is great! He lived in New Jersey with his wife and children for 9 years, so his English is great. He has taught us a lot about the ways of Costa Rica. He and George make good comrades because they are both very social and adventurous. Having Elvis around has eliminated most of George's pacing, and his regular need to be a "wild-man" has been fulfilled for the moment. Our first adventure with Elvis was in the comfort of our back-yard and kitchen, where he taught us to make coconut oil.

When George first met Elvis, he was peddling his wares: Costa Rica key-chains and coconut oil. We really enjoy local food, so we bought some of his coconut oil, which will cure anything that ails you, according to Elvis. We quickly became fans of his coconut oil, frying plantains in it, drizzling it over chicken and rice, burritos, etc. We showed so much interest that Elvis volunteered to show us how to make the magical oil.

We sequestered ten ripe coconuts from our neighbors tree (which regularly fall to the ground, never to be used by them), and started the lengthy process of making coconut oil.

First, George and Elvis had to make a tool for grating the coconut flesh. So, using a file and a piece of scrap-metal from an old machete, they put their tico and hillbilly ingenuity to work and created two coconut rayadores.

Next, Elvis demonstrated how to remove the coconut husk . . .

Then he showed us how to hack open the shell with our kitchen knife / machete.

Here he's collecting the agua de coco for drinking.

And the beautiful white, oily flesh is exposed.

Next, you have to start grating the flesh, like so.

Here, we're getting into the groove of coconut grating.

Adalaya grated a coconut too!

It's tiring work! Elvis says he can do about 100 coconuts per day, but we were plenty happy just processing 10!

Next we soaked the grated coconut in water, then squeezed it out the milk through a handkerchief. This was repeated two more times for a total of 4 gallons of coconut milk, which is also very yummy in it's own right. At this point I wanted to take a bath in the milk, it was so lovely and creamy!

We let the coconut cream rise to the top over a period of several hours, then proceeded to skim off the cream and cook it down.

The cream separates into coconut curds and oil, and the whole kitchen smells rich and delicious.

At the end of the process, we made about 16 oz of oil from the 10 coconuts. Cooking with the oil adds a delicious new tropical flare to many of our old standby meals. I've also started using the oil on my skin after bathing. I think I must have been coconut deprived!

Elvis is currently taking orders for coconut oil if anyone wants to try this magical panacea! Here's bottles of different batches currently in our kitchen.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Friends on the Finca

One reason that we chose to come to Uvita, of all the places in Central America, is that we have friends here who run a farm / biological field study center. The road up to their "finca" has been destroyed by this year's unusually rainy season, so we haven't been able to spend much time up there until recently. Finally we went up to Finca Carolina this week and spent a night in the jungle.

The adventure began with the ride up the aforementioned road. George had already dubbed Andrew's trusty Subaru "The Ghetto Blaster" because we could always hear him coming to visit us way before he arrived. So, now we were to ride up an extremely steep, muddy, and washed-out road in his car which had the entire exhaust system "wired" onto the chassis of the car. Well, about half-way up the road, the wires broke, and the exhaust system was dragging the ground. Classic photo below, I think.

After assessing the situation, they decided to tie the pipes back under the car in order to get it up the hill. George's boy scout training comes in handy once again! Note the lack of a muffler in the photo below.

The boy-scout knots held, and we were able to resume our uphill adventure.

Here's the Subie clearing one of the last mud pits. Ah, if only photographs could capture sound, this image would be complete.

Having successfully arrived at the finca, we were treated to our favorite dinner: homemade wood-fired pizza. Noah fired up their cob oven and fixed tons of delicious pizza with our favorite toppings. In this photo, the fire is still heating the oven and the pot of tomato sauce is cooking in front of the fire.

George, who loves pizza and cob ovens, was inspired by their cooking technique. Noah slid the pizzas into the oven on banana leaves rather than using a pizza peel and cornmeal. Then he turned the pizzas with a machete, and toward the end he removed the banana leaf in order to crisp the crust a little. What talent! Here's Andrew cutting the pizza with the ever-useful machete.

We voted it the best pizza on our trip! It was also the first pizza we've had that was served on banana leaves! YUM!

We headed back to our screened bunk-house with full bellies and let the sounds of the jungle sing us to sleep. In a seemingly short period of time, we were awakened by the early morning sounds of the jungle. In particular, howler monkeys that start their howling at the crack of dawn, followed closely by the roosters.

We had some fresh juice and pineapple slices, then Andrew took us on a hike through the jungle, where he shared some interesting jungle facts with us. Nicholas was quite the guide too, as he found several tiny frogs for us to see.

We also found an amazing tree with huge buttressed roots. In this photo, Adalaya is standing in front of one of the massive meandering roots, and her hand is on another.

Here we are, happy in the jungle!

We hiked down to the river, and their gorgeous waterfall, where the sun was just starting to light up the water.

It was a good time for a swim!

Andrew swam with the kids up to to waterfall,

and then they let the current carry them back down-stream.

Such a beautiful place, and so nice to be with friends.

When we returned to the farm, Daniella had prepared an amazing "typico" breakfast for us of gallo pinto, home-made tortillas, fried cheese, and scrambled eggs. We were treated like royalty!

We walked around the farm after breakfast, and it was so fun to see what luscious food will grow in such a warm and wet place: coconuts, bananas, cashews, vanilla, pineapples, and so much more!

We had a great time at the finca!

Andrew, Daniella, and Nicholas are off to San Jose in a few days, and Andrew will be heading back to the States. We've had a lot of fun with them and hate to see them go (although we did get to see them go, in the fully-packed Subaru with the exhaust system strapped to the top - I wish I had a picture of that!). We will miss you guys, and we wish you all the best in the upcoming year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lag Time

OK, I'm back to bloggin' finally! George and I are sitting here in our casa rosada, George sitting at the desk in the kitchen doing the last of his Spanish homework and I'm in a whole other room (although I can still see him, Hi George!). This is quite a change from van life where we could be seated in the various "rooms" of the van, and still touch each other. But life with George, as always, involves extremes, and we have made an extremely welcomed jump from living in our vehicle and shivering many a night since August, to living in a 4 bedroom/3 bathroom house in the tropics, with no vehicle. We're in Costa Rica for 3 months, thoroughly enjoying the warmth and wildlife while we've been hearing about the ice and snow from friends at home.

We've been here for a month now, and we're finally set up with high-speed internet, so I'm going to do some back-tracking and back-dating to catch up on what we've been doing for the past month and a half. Now, where were we . . . ?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Feria

We had a fun outing today! We went to a local feria (fair) where folks were selling their wares and spreading the word about their local services. Our friends Andrew, Daniella, and Nicholas had a booth there, too, where they displayed Andrew's hand-made African drums and information about his farm, Daniella's beautiful metal-engraving, and Nicholas' drawings of local birds.

I also met a woman I call "The Tamale Lady", who was very sweet and explained to me in great detail (entirely in Spanish) all about her tamales, her hot pepper sauces and relishes, and her hand-embroidered clothing. I really enjoyed her tamales and hot pepper sauce, not to mention her conversation, of which I only understood a fraction.

During the fair there was some entertainment. The first act was this beautiful and colorful group of children dancing traditional Spanish dances. It's the Costa Rican version of clogging, without which no Burnsville fair is complete.

You may recognize the dynamic duo in the next act. George and Andrew pounded out African rhythms for all the fair to hear.

And now they have fans of all ages!