Week Sixteen – Bumper cars and mountainsides

What is the etiquette for houses without walls?  Every time we pass by our neighbour Bill’s apartment, or the young couple who just moved in behind us come home or whatever, I am unsure what the proper protocol is.  ‘Cause we can all see each other through the screens.  So, is it rude to walk by without saying hello when Bill is sitting in his living room on his computer?  Or do you keep your head down and try to give him a modicum of privacy?  These are things that don’t come up in Canada!  Maybe Miss Manners would know.

The Perez Zeledon annual expo has been on this past week.  Perez Zeledon is the other name for San Isidro de El General, the city where we have been staying and also the name for this whole district.  Quick Costa Rica geography note: every city has a least two names and every name has at least two towns (for example there are about six San Isidros in CR, that’s why you need to use the full title, but until you know that, web searches are ridiculously confusing!).  Saint Isidro is the patron saint of agriculture and the farmers use this as a time to bring their livestock in for show, both to win contests and to bring luck to them for the following year.

We went to the expo on Saturday.  We made the decision to avoid the “sporting events”; since, as those who have had the misfortune of being with me at calf-wrestling before know, I have a tendency to cheer for the calf and get myself in trouble.  Bull fighting takes place at the expo too, but it’s different than in Spain: the bull isn’t killed and the people in the ring are mostly just guys from the crowd who are trying to show off and have drunk enough beer to think it’s a good idea.  Apparently, they usually get pummeled.  As one would expect.  It’s good for the gene pool to take those people out though, so that’s ok.

The big attraction for us at the expo turned out to be the bumper cars. Have you ever seen people acquire a whole alternate personality when they get behind the wheel of a car?  Think about my beautiful, sweet-as-sugar twins, smashing into each other and everyone else while yelling with a semi-deranged look in their eyes.  Then we stopped for lunch, fed them cotton candy and let them go another three times while sugar high, which was even better!

This week we traveled to a small village called San Gerardo de Rivas. The village is at the base of Mt. Chirripo, one of the highest peaks in Central America.  Climbing the mountain involves hiking for “7-14 hours, depending on fitness level and enthusiasm” each way and we decided that might be a little much for us.  I’m using the kids’ little legs as an excuse.  Instead, we made the 40min completely vertical hike to Aguas Termales, a natural hot spring.  The pool is literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rocks and trees.  It was wonderful to sit in the warm water listening to the birds sing watching the kids play on the large rock in the middle of the pool.  After we had been there for awhile completely alone, a couple with their teenage daughter showed up.  We got talking and I told them what I was doing here and he said something along the lines of, “Well, you must have heard of my friend Rosita then.”  It turns out that Rosita, the author of the book Rainforest Remedies that I bought six years ago when we began thinking about this trip and that I have with me in the apartment here, used to live with this guy in Chicago.  Cool eh?  So now I’ve got the contact info and the inside scoop if we want to travel to Belize sometime in the future.  Which we do.

The higher elevation of San Gerardo makes for slightly cooler weather and allows for a really interesting juxtaposition of plants.  For example, have you ever seen orchids growing on a pine tree?  Neither had I.  The Rio Chirripo is gorgeous and green and the mountains are majestic.  Do I sound like a travel brochure yet?  Walking down from the hot springs we were inside a cloud and it was drizzly and damp as we waited for the bus to take us back.  Travelling in rural areas, the blonde hair is again a novelty.  People touch the kids’ heads for luck as they get on to the bus.

And just when we thought we had explored the whole city here we found a new restaurant, Dona Regina.  It’s Argentinean and out of the way.  There we ordered the specialty parilla, having no idea what it might be.  Turns out, parilla is a grill. They roast meat for you in this huge open stone oven over a wood fire and serve it on a small cast-iron stove thing filled with hot coals which keeps everything sizzling on your table.  It was soooo good and so different from anything that I had tried before that I had to write about it.

Much of this week was spent just figuring things out: where we are going and what we are doing for the last two months of our travels.  We have a bit of a game plan now, though, as always, it is subject to change.  What I can say with confidence is this: we will be arriving in Toronto April 19, Winnipeg April 27, and Kelowna May 1.  See you then!

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