When In Costa Rica Do As the Costa Ricans

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“When in Rome do as the Romans”, is one of my most used sayings. Why? Because to successfully live somewhere other than the country, region, etc. you were born in, you must learn to do things as the natives. If you are not flexible enough to adapt to this, you´re going to have problems.

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Social etiquette is different all over the world, what might be polite in one country is impolite in another. I have often observed my fellow Americans blunder through situations, in which, if they had observed what Costa Rican etiquette called for, they would had been better off. I´m not free of guilt in this sense myself, introductions being one of them. I have often tried to back track to correct my blunder.

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In Costa Rica it is important to acknowledge a person before you get into a conversation with them. As I stated in an earlier post, it is customary to say “Buenas” (Good Day) to anybody you are going to address, be it a storekeeper or someone your going to ask for directions. When I walk my dogs in my neighborhood, I will often pass guards, people walking for exercise. etc. who will say “Buenas, even though I have never had a conversation with them. I in return say “Buenas” back.

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If you see a person fairly regularly but are not socially connected a “Que tal?” ( how is it going?) is said, to which the other person answers “bien y usted” (good and you). An example of one of the people I say this to, is the guy that stamps my parking ticket every Saturday when I go to the farmer´s market.

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Running into a person that you know is more complicated. If you both are in a hurry a “Hola, como esta?” (Hi, how are you?) is called for, to which a “Muy bien, gracias. Y usted?” (Very good and you?) is answered. If you have time you can answer “Bien, gracias” (Good, thanks). If you stop to talk, be prepared to ask about any family member you know of that person, especially older parents or someone that is sick.

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I could probably write a book on this, because there are many subtle changes in many of these introductions, depending on the degree to which you know someone. This is just a rough outline. My point is, acknowledging a person is important in Costa Rican society and will open people if done.

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I´ve included some pictures we took at a farm we went to see with my husband. When we entered, there were some workers cutting a sick tree and tall grass. Upon leaving we noticed the dead Fer-de-Lances, killed with the workers machetes. The Fer-de-Lance is an aggressive snake. It will bite cattle (which they had in that pasture) and is often killed because of this. I had my doubts as to if these were False Fer-de Lances, which aren´t venomous, or the real Fer-de-Lance. Unfortunately, the False is often killed because it is confused with the Fer-de-Lance.

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Food is always offered when visiting someone, especially in the country, Costa Rican etiquette again. The tortillas were made by the farm´s caretaker´s wife. The corn was grown by them and the sour cream that we poured on top of the tortillas was from a neighbor´s cow. Something very simple but very good, due to the quality of its ingredients.

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On Being a Mother

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August 15 was Mother´s Day here in Costa Rica. I had planned to write about an painful experience I had as a mother with one of my sons on that day, but was unable. I have decided to write about it here anyway.

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As a mothers, things that happen to our children can be deeply felt . We would often prefer to suffer ourselves than see our children suffer. But inevitably, this is part of our children´s life learning process. I had dealt with such an experience with one of my sons for many years, until one day I said, ” No more.”

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One of my sons has a gentle temperament, because of this he was picked on throughout his school years. My husband and I had tried several tactics to overcome this, but to no avail. In his sophomore year of high school while attending parent-teacher conferences, his homeroom and biology teacher informed us, that there was a boy in my son´s class that knocked over his books on his desk almost everyday. My son, in turn, would calmly pick up his books as if nothing happened. She told us, “Tell him to give the kid a punch, and not to worry about getting in trouble.” My first thought was “She´s the teacher, she should keep order in her classroom.” But the more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that she was right. If my son did not stand up for himself, the bullying would continue. He had to make a stand.

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Upon arriving at home, I told him to go get his year book, that I wanted to see a kid in it. Even though my sons are tall and have inherited their father´s broad shoulders, I wanted to see how big this kid was before I pitted my son against him, I´m no fool. We discussed what the teacher had said and he showed me the kid. I asked him how big the kid was and told me he only came up to his mouth. I asked him if he had a lot of friends, and he said no. I was suddenly filled with anger and frustration, and decided then and there that the bullying would go on for no more. I told him, “You know, I have never raised a hand to you, but if you do not stand up to this kid and give him a punch, I´ll give you a beating you´ll never forget for the rest of your life.” This of course was a lie, I could never beat him. But I knew that he had to be more afraid of myself than the kid for him to do something about it. “One of two things is going to happen, when you punch him,” I continued,” One is, he´ll leave you alone from now on. The other is, that he´ll continue to bother you and you´ll be in no worst situation than you are in now. But I bet that he´ll leave you alone, because you´re much bigger than him. Give him a punch, your teacher says you won´t get in trouble.” I then proceeded to stress how much bigger he was than the other kid.

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The truth is, I was very nervous when he went to school on Monday morning and wasn’t sure if I was right in instilling fear of myself in him. But when he got home I asked him, “Did the kid knock over your books?”

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“Yeah”

“Did you punch him?”

“Yeah”

“And what happened?”

“Nothing”

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I suddenly felt a great relief, and went on to congratulate him for standing up for himself. I continued to ask him for the next several days if the kid knocked over his books, to which he replied “No”. But just to make sure he was not lying to me for fear of a beating, the next time I saw his teacher I asked her about the bullying. “Oh no,” she said, ” your son´s the one throwing the punches now.”

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My son, thankfully, never was bullied from then on. After the incident, he began to participate more in school activities. When he graduated, from the same school, I was happy to see that he was one of the most applauded for when he received his diploma in his graduation ceremony. He is a man now. We have often looked back upon this and laughed at how empty my threat was, but at the same time so effective.

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I once heard someone say that being a mother is the hardest job they had ever done. I think this is so true, but these little triumphs in our children´s life are what make being a mother so rewarding.

My daughter had taken these pictures to post on Mother´s Day. We had gone to a nursery called  “El Zamorano”. They have nice roses at good prices. They´re about 300 meters off the exit to San Isidro de Heredia on the highway San Jose-Guapiles.

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The English, Gold, and My Mother´s Hometown

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I once told a lady that I knew the story of myself, my parents, and their ancestors, and when I was done she said “Wow, you could write a book on that.” I had never thought my family´s history so interesting, but today I have decided to tell a small part of it. Although I was born and raised in Chicago, I am one of three daughters of a Costa Rican girl, who had a dream that reached beyond the borders of the little town and little country she was born in. My mother was born in Atenas.

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 Atenas is cited by Forbes and National Geographic as one of the best places in the world to live, due to the longevity of its inhabitants. My grandmother had 4 or 5 siblings that lived to their late 90´s.  The University of Florida came to study the inhabitants of this small town, who by the way were all related to some degree, and came to the conclusion that there is a gene that is passed from mother to daughter  and her descendants. It is also passed from mother to son, but a son cannot pass it to his descendants.DSC_0467

My mother who died at 37, unfortunately was not one of them; I believe she died from consequences of a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis which she inherited from her English ancestors. In the early 1800´s the politicians of Costa Rica established commercial relations with England. The planting of coffee, as a major export at that time, was one of the results of this relationship. Another  was the establishment of a gold mine in Atenas, by the Anglo Costa Rican Economical Mining Company in 1834. A gentleman ?,( I have often questioned this) named John Jenkins arrived in Costa Rica to work as a smith for this company, who was my mother´s great-great- grandfather. I have often kidded with my aunts that he was probably the last of the pirates, given he was from Cornwall and the extreme wealth he acquired supposedly as a smith. He married a woman, whose family was involved in politics at the time. He also had an affair with a relative of hers and thus my mother´s great-grandfather was born, Jose Carlos. Even though he was illegitimate, he was recognized by the Jenkins family,  went on to be a diputado (senator) and made his own fortune in cattle ranching.

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Upon graduating from high school, my mother decided she wanted to go to the United States to study business. This was some unheard of in the 1940´s. Women were supposed to settle down and have a family. If you studied, you studied to be a school teacher. Also the cost was great, sending your children to the U.S. to study, was the equivalent of an American sending their children to Switzerland. But somehow my grandfather gave her permission, with the condition she would go with her elder sister. Her elder sister was not too keen on the idea, but eventually ceded.

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After finishing her studies in Kentucky, she went to visit some friends in Chicago. There she met my father, fell in love, married him and had my two sisters and myself. The rest is a story I will tell another day.

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I often go to Atenas just to see where my mother spent her childhood. My aunt told me once that she had a happy childhood there, to which I was much relieved, because she suffered much in her struggle to overcome cancer as an adult. It is a peaceful town.  A new wave of immigrants have come to settle there, seeking the fountain of youth, due to the publicity I have mentioned before.

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I´m sorry if I have bored my followers with the story of my family, but I would like to dedicate this post to my children,  nieces, and nephew, so they know where they have come from, and also to my mother, who died 41 years ago on August 17. I have included pictures of Atenas, for those who follow us for my daughter´s photography.

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Dancing in the Rain at Tapantí National Park.

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“Life´s not about running away from the rainstorm, but learning to dance in the rain” is what I suddenly thought when we were caught in a heavy rainstorm in the Tapanti National Park. Our outing had started with a beautiful sunny day, but this being the rainy season, I knew our day would involve rain at some point.

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The Tapanti National Park sits alongside a series of parks that form the largest continental protected wilderness area, extending from southern Costa Rica into Panama. I love going there, the vibe of the forest is totally different from the forests in the Central Valley. The road to the entrance of the park is about 2 miles south of Orosi on 224, look for a sign. Once on the dirt road, (which is pretty good shape) if you come to a town, in less than a mile, named Rio Macho, your on the right road.

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If you have never visited Costa Rica, you may be wondering why I´m giving these odd directions. Not many things are marked here, roads, streets, towns, etc., so the only way to give directions is to say “So much from this place” or “When you see this turn left”. A tip on Costa Rican etiquette, when you stop to ask for directions; first say “Buenas” (good day), then proceed to ask for directions. When the person is done giving you directions, smile and say “Gracias”. I’d say it’s worth your while being polite on this point, you don’t want to be wrongly sent to kingdom come because of your lack of manners.

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As we entered the park, we were greeted with Morpho butterflies, but were unsuccessful in photographing them. They are more elusive than other butterflies. Oncidium orchids over hung the road. People here call them “rain of gold” because of their abundant golden flowers.

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Something I find fascinating and were also hanging over the road, are the nests made by Oropendula birds. Oropendulas belong to the blackbird family and nest in colonies. They´re about the size of a crow, so their nests are somewhat big and hang from trees.

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The park has several paths for hiking, we decided to go down the “Sendero La Catarata” path. The day was so sunny I left our raincoats in the car thinking it wouldn’t rain for awhile. The path has views of a very large water fall, I´d say it´s at least 100 meters long.

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As we wound down to the river, we crossed over several creeks.

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The river was a beautiful blue color with clear water.

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We climbed through the rocks up the river and as we were taking pictures I could hear thunder in the distance.

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But since the weather has been funny, I thought maybe it won’t rain too hard. When it did start to rain, we slowly began to make our way through the rocks to the head of the trail. I am somewhat weary of rivers here, especially if I’m in a place where I can’t easily get to the shore. During certain times of year the rains are torrential here. They usually start up the mountains, so even though it´s not raining where you are at, the river can suddenly rise. I’ve been witness to this, so look for signs as to how far the river has risen with the rains from the day before.

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As we walked along the path to our car, the heavy forest shielded us from the rain. But suddenly we could hear the heavy downpour approaching and began to run to avoid my daughters photographic equipment getting wet. At some point I was left behind and was met with the torrential rain. I don´t think a raincoat would of even shielded me. Why I began to run, I don´t know, maybe because we are taught to run out of the rain. But at some point I thought “What is the point? What am I running from?”. I stopped, looked up into the trees and enjoyed the rain falling on my face. This is when I thought, “Life is not running away from the rainstorm, but learning to dance in the rain”. This is something I have tried to apply in my life. Instead of fighting, finding something positive out of the moment.

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I continued to trudge back up the path in my water logged jeans. As I neared the end of the path, I could see my second son coming toward me with an umbrella he had gotten out of the car. We both began to laugh at the absurdity of it
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Coffee

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One of my great loves is coffee, and I guess I´m living in the right country to fuel this. A family from Naranjo recently had their coffee rated as one of the best worldwide and was paid a record-breaking price for it also! Many people regularly drink coffee everyday but know nothing of how it gets into their cups.

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Coffee is a fruit from a bush. Its process starts, here in Costa Rica, about March (this date varies somewhat depending on certain growing conditions such as altitude and temperature)  when the bush blooms to give off  small, white, very fragrant flowers. No they do not smell like coffee, it´s more like a perfume.

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The flowers eventually fall off and small green fruits begin to appear that ripen into red berries. If you peel one of these berries and place it in your mouth you will find a very thin layer of sweet fruit. But do not bite the bitter, unpleasant, tasting seed which is actually the part that is processed into coffee.

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Coffee is handpicked around the middle of November. So if your interested in seeing this process with the many coffee tours offered, this is a good time. Workers go amongst the plants with a preset size woven basket sometimes singing, always joking and talking. It is taken to what is called a recibidor on the same plantation or near it. A recibidor is a large structure to help funnel the coffee berries on to trucks.

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The berries are hauled off to be peeled, dried, roasted and ground ( if you buy ground coffee) at a processing plant. If it is to be exported it is often not roasted, this is an art, and is done by the coffee-house that markets it.

I suggest grinding your own. Coffee loses its essential oils, thus its taste, quickly after it has been ground. There is a world of difference in taste, between freshly ground coffee and ground coffee that has been sitting on the supermarket shelf for who knows how long. It doesn´t matter if it´s vaccum sealed or not.

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As I am always looking for ways to make my impact on the earth less, I drink Arabica coffee. Why? First, because Arabica coffee plants need shade to grow, so tall trees are interspersed amongst  the coffee bushes supporting the local wildlife. Other coffees do not need shade. Secondly, because at least in my world, of its taste. When well-grown, I think it is superior to any other coffee. Thirdly, because it is lower in caffeine than Robusta coffee, and well, with my ADD I try to keep the hyperactivity level down.

So, if you want to have a better coffee experience, grind your own, drink Arabica, and of course ONLY drink Costa Rican coffee. I have included this picture of a sign I found amusing, but is so true.

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It says “With good soil, water, and tractor any pendejo (the nearest translation to this that I can think of is sissy, but in the sense of being afraid to take on hard work) is a farmer.

Travel Tips On Avoiding Illness.

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I sometimes enjoy watching Anthony Bourdain and his culinary adventures on TV. But more than once, I have wondered how his stomach health was after eating in some foreign rustic place.  I myself have devised a successful plan to avoid illness when traveling, that I will share here.

We often become ill when eating food in foreign countries because of a difference in bacterial fauna from one place to another, especially in countries that do not experience freezing temperatures.  Our immune systems become overwhelmed and thus illness.
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How do I avoid losing precious vacation time to illness? First, before we travel I raise my family’s defenses a month ahead of time by giving them probiotics to improve their intestinal fauna, a multivitamin complex of vitamin A, C, E, selenium and zinc, and Astragulus to raise their defenses.

When we travel, first and foremost, wash or sanitize your hands any time you put something into your mouth. I try to avoid eating foods that are raw, with the exception of fruit that can be peeled and is soaked in a gallon of water with a tablespoon of salt for 15 minutes. If someone does become ill, I give them probiotics and psyllium fiber.  Giving someone who is sick to their stomach fiber will encourage the intestinal wall to produce mucus to help expel any bacteria or parasites. If you never have taken fiber before, I would not encourage taking it here for the first time.DSC_0021

Being sick can spoil your vacation. I have had a child vomiting the day before we were to return home and have been able to travel the next day, by following these steps.  I hope it will be of some use.DSC_0307

River Rafting Reminiscences and Adventure Racing World Series

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   In the past, I used to river raft until I injured my knee at the beginning of a rafting expedition and wound up almost  drowning in the Pacuare River. I remember the guide saying at a spot in the river where you go through a canyon, “No one wants to fall out in this canyon because we won´t pull you out until the end.” Every time a wave hit the bottom of the raft I could feel a shot of pain go up my leg and I thought,” I´m going to fall out.” And I did fall out, got caught in a whirlpool between the canyon wall and the raft. While I was sucked in the whirlpool, I somehow blindly grabbed the raft´s rope, hung on till a calmer portion of the river and someone pulled me out. All while my knee or foot hit every rock in the river sending severe pains to my knee. Let me note here, I´m not a wimpy sort of person. I had four kids naturally, so my tolerance to pain is high. I finally got home to my husband and children, unable to walk, leaning heavily on my companions. As soon as I was deposited on the sofa and everyone had left, my husband said, “Tricia, what am I going to do if something happens to you?” I had a 6 year old son and 6 month old baby at the time. He was concerned for our children, so for his peace of mind I quit my rafting days. Plus I was soon very occupied with the arrival of our 3rd child.DSC_0417DSC_2581I have meandered from the purpose of writing this blog. For all our adventure seekers the Adventure Racing World Series is being hosted in Costa Rica from Nov 29-Dec 12 2013. If you would like more information here is a link to their website.102_0960DSC_2556We’ve included some pictures of rivers to enjoy.
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