Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sharon: Day 2

We had had a plan for our stay: Liam going to school with Fiona every day from 8-12:30, and Jules with the full-time, $2/hour nanny; Max and I with four glorious hours to write, practice yoga, read, sun ourselves on the beach.

We hadn’t allowed ourselves to think past our arrival. We thought it likely that Jules would take well to having a full-time playmate, if we could get ourselves out of the house and leave them alone, but a plan in Costa Rica isn’t reality until it’s actually happening. Commitments are very flexible. There was no way for us to know whether Lady really intended to come work, and when. Plus, Liam is notoriously fickle, and very, very attached to us. I had thought there was, say, a 50% chance he might agree to go to school here.

We decided on our drive down that we would spend our first day helping the kids adjust, and going to find Lady in the neighboring town; she doesn’t have a phone, so I knew we’d have to drive to her house. I figured it would take a few days for Liam to be ready to go to school, and assumed there’d be lots of details to iron out with the director.

But lo and behold, Liam woke saying he wanted to go to school on his first day, explaining, “I’ve been to school a few times, and I kind of like it.” Not about to miss that boat, we jumped aboard, hussled him off to Cobano with Fiona, spent about 5 minutes there while they introduced him, the kids applauded, they marveled at his ability to speak English, and we were off! The teachers speak only Spanish, so we left Fiona with strict instructions to translate.

We got home to find Lady waiting for us. That Khalida…she’s the bomb! We let cranky, tired ol’ Jules get comfy with her and a couple of balls, and then before we could blink, Max and I were sitting in a cafĂ©, drinking coffee and tamarindo juice, and marveling at our good fortune.

What an amazing start to our journey, and I’m only at 10:30a.m.

The afternoon was typically Tico. We ate our third plate of the day of rice and beans before 1:00, and then spent the afternoon with Tico friends in Cobano, Asan’s mom and then my host family. Liam got to feed chickens, chase turkeys, pull eggs out of nests in Rosa Leda’s garage, get eye-to-eye with a pig. At Emilia’s, the host mom I lived with in ’94, I was welcomed as the Prodigal daughter…but with GRANDCHILDREN! Mere pixels on a page cannot convey the frenzied enthusiasm with which we were greeted. There were a few admonitions about not having called enough, and very stern and sincere reproaches about not staying with them, but then for the rest of the visit, the kids’ feet practically didn’t touch the floor. If you know Liam, I challenge you to imagine him consenting to have some totally crazed, shouting, Spanish-speaking woman carry him around the house, kissing him until his cheeks glistened. Most of you probably heard from across the ocean her squeals of delight when he responded “Si” to her pleas that he stay with her forever. I mentioned how I was looking forward to learning to make rice pudding from her, and Jeannette, the house-keeper, was sent to make it. We shared how excited Liam was by farm animals, and, bam, we were shoved into the car to go see Marcos’s pregnant cows (I let them drag us away sans carseats, but drew the line when Emilia tried to take Liam seated on her lap in the front seat). At the farm, the kids ran down the serene dirt road with Emilia (in her high heels), giggling as she swooped them up. Back at the house, it was coffee and arroz con leche, and some neon cereal that might have been Fruit Loops. Thankfully, no one could deny that the kids looked exhausted, and we were able to make a graceful exit. We have standing invitations for dinner, horseback riding to round up the cattle, cow-milking lessons, and visiting the newborn calf. I’m starting to wonder how five weeks could possibly be enough.

I keep writing and writing, and haven’t even touched on the beauty and remoteness of Khalida and Asan’s house, or their sweet hospitality. Roads around here are bad, and I’ve crossed many a flowing river in route to a destination. But Khalida’s 1-km driveway makes the main road look like super highway. There is no way we could do it without a four-wheel drive truck, and even in the truck, it’s nerve-rattling. If I were walking, I might feel the need for rope and a harness in places. The house is an amazing blend of natural materials, where the lines between inside and out and blurred. There is no sign of any other human visible in any direction, even though we’re up on a huge hill can see about a mile to the ocean. It’s an amazing place to be a morning person (she writes at 5:15), with the sun rising over the bay, little rabbit-sized mammals scurrying for food in the yard, and the calls of howler monkeys echoing across the peninsula.

Sharon: Sleepy, but Here

It’s 5:51a.m. on our first morning in Montezuma, and I’m up, my mind racing with the excitement of our adventure yesterday and awareness of our surroundings.

To be clear, I’m usually up well before this at home, and it’s an hour earlier here anyway. But still. In terms of hours-of-sleep-that-would-be-normal, I should still be sleeping, like Max and the boys.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this out at the beginning, the beginning of our travel day yesterday, when Oliver woke us up at 3:30 a.m., puking all over our suitcase. We didn’t have to leave for our flight until 6:00, but we were goners, victims of pre-travel insomnia. We tried to sleep for a half-hour or so, then gave up. Max had remembered that we still needed to pack our passports, so the pre-travel insomnia was not in vain, but Robert was sleeping in our study. When we got him up, I went to grab the passports, and…que sorpresa! The passports weren’t in the file. I felt my heart leap, and immediately began consoling myself: It’s a five-week vacation, so what if we miss a week or two waiting for new ones? But, dang, were we panicked. I recalled that we had taken them to the post office to get Jules’s passport, and I couldn’t be sure that I had put them back in the file.

To cram a whole lotta agony into a short story, we found them in only about 15 minutes, and still got to the airport with time to spare.

The flights were delayed, but relatively uneventful. The plane was full of loud Gringos wearing gaudy floral T-shirts, headed for the resorts near the airport, and I was reminded that Costa Rica is not the remote place it was when I lived there. I noticed my mental attachments, my grasping for the second home of my memories, a place that doesn’t exist anymore. The kids were generally great. Jules—normally the happiest kid in town—sure is wiggly on a plane. He’s a full-time job for the two of us, so we’re glad that Liam is so happy to just sit there and read or watch a DVDWe were all exhausted by the time we got in our rental car and started out on the 5 hour drive to Montezuma.

Driving away from the airport was completely surreal. I lived here for a whole year in ’94, but haven’t been back now in nine years. Everything—the chickens in the road, the trucks passing on curves at 80 miles an hour, the hours of driving on dirt roads, the cat calls from men lingering on sidewalks—it was all completely comfortable and familiar, and brand new at the same time. I felt memories awakening, felt connected to a time in my life when I was bold and unattached, but at the same time more insecure and much more ignorant. To pass the time, I instinctively scanned the tree tops for monkeys, the mango trees for ripe fruit. The dust piled up on our skin and clothes, and I remembered the feeling, remembered learning to do it the Tico way, to close the bus windows even in the face of the stifling heat, to avoid being covered with dust.

The kids were AWESOME. They barely complained, dozed on and off (mostly off). I was so grateful, because if my aching butt was any indication of how they must have felt being bounced around in the back, they were really being stoic. At about 6:00, after 12 hours of traveling, we stopped at a “soda” near a ferry dock, and watched the sunset. There were no other foreigners there, and it felt good after the party boat that our airplane had been. We spoke lots of Spanish, and the kids ran around with the Tico kids, completely welcomed. When I returned from the ladies’ room after dinner, I found Jules in the arms of the waitress, who giggled and babbled at him, trying to get him to smile. As we left, the woman at the table next to us told us it was nice to meet us, and wished that God be with us on our way. The manager waved from the other side of the restaurant. And I felt vaguely like I had finally come home.

So this morning, we awoke full of questions for Khalida and Asan, everything from the normal kinds of questions you’d want to ask one of your closest friends you hadn’t seen in a year, to Where is the milk kept? to How does it feel to be locals here again? One moment at a time. My excitement is carrying me away.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sharon: "I'm sure you must be really busy"

Well, actually, no. Everyone who has called in the last 24 hours starts out with some variation on that theme. But what was I doing when I got up at 5:00 this morning? I was finishing Harry Potter, not packing. Thanks to anal list-making that would make Dad positively weep with pride, I am so organized that I'm bored. The day is DRAGGING on, as we wait for the time when we can do last-minute things like empty the fridge or pack the clothes that are in the laundry.

The kids can sense that something is different--and Liam is old enough to kind of get it--but all in all, it's been a pretty ordinary day so far. Jules is showing signs of being sick, which sends shudders down my spine. He's been sick for almost every flight we've taken with him, and even under the best conditions, he's not the kind of personality to be happy sitting still on a plane. Thinking of flights with Jules calls to mind our trip to California in June, when he threw up all over Max about 30 minutes into it, covering Max from chin to waist. Max had to duck into the bathroom, wash his shirt in the tiny little sink, and put it BACK ON.

Anyway, next post from the jungles of Costa Rica. For those of you who haven't been there, here's what Frommer's has to say about the town we're going to:

Frommer's Montezuma Intro

"Booming"?! So hard to imagine, considering that when I lived there in '94, they had only had electricity for about 10 years, and to make a phone call, you still had to go through the town operator. It's also accessible only by about 90 minutes of dirt roads (after taking a ferry to the peninsula). I do wonder, though, how much the town has grown up.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sharon: Seven Days and Counting

School uniforms. Who would have thought I'd ever send my kid to a school where he had to wear a uniform? Khalida told me to buy the shorts here because all they sell at the school Liam'll be going to are 100% polyester. Poor kids; it's not exactly the fabric of choice for jungle weather (90 degrees with 90% humidity). But do a quick search for boys' uniform shorts online and you'll find a whole lot of khaki and navy, but you know what you won't find? Forest green. And it's not a particularly fashionable color these days, either, so don't bother looking in Target, or Old Navy, or even the mall.

I found one place online that was selling them for a slightly reasonable $9 (+$6 shipping...ugh), so I ordered one pair, figuring if the ones they sell in Cobano are even more expensive, at least he'd have something to start with. But when they I arrived I could see that unless Liam suddenly gains 10 pounds, I have to take them in at the waist. I've thought about my options--a belt, binder clips, staples--and have finally resigned myself to pulling out the ol' sewing machine and trying to do it the semi-legitimate way. I'll add it to the long to-do list I have for the week.

In running through the worst-case scenarios for the trip, one thing that comes up is Liam hating school. We talk about it with him all the time (especially the part about how it'll all be in Spanish), and he says he's game for it. But if he changes his mind when he actually gets there, we'll be in a pickle. He spends his whole day here either playing piano or listening to the CD player, and he won't have either of those things in CR. Someone told us about a roll-up piano, and considering how much time he spends on the ivories here, we were briefly tempted to buy one for the trip. But then the carefree backpacker that still lives in me got wind of that idea, and threw a fit, and we're heading off with prayers that school and the nanny (Lady...yes, that's her given name) will keep him occupied instead.

In packing news (because I know you're on the edge of your seat waiting to see if we're going to be able to fit our luggage in our Honda Civic to get to the airport), I filled our enormous suitcase 3/4 full with the stuff for Khalida. At least we'll have plenty of room for Salsa Lizano and coffee on the way home. I specifically waited until this week to email Emilia with the definitive dates of our trip, so at least I've saved myself toting a suitcase full of Estee Lauder night creams. But there are three, 2+-inch-thick hardcovers I want to take with me, and I've decided I can only take one (and one other on my iPod). So Harry Potter is going to have to stay home. Don't spoil it, people!

- SL

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Max: Estoy un payaso!

Un hombre camina en una barra. El dice "ouch!"

They say the hardest thing to do in a foreign language is to be funny. Well, how's that for exceeding expectations? Then there's this classic:
Un caballo camina en una barra. El hombre detras de la barra dice "Por que usted tiene una cara larga?"

I've been making a decent effort to brush up on my Spanish before the big trip, but I feel like no matter how much I cram, I'm still going to be incredibly illiterate. So it's hard to motivate myself to keep going over verbs and common words. I think I could basically survive if I were lost, provided my arms aren't broken and I can still use my mad charade skills.

Anyway, I'll continue to listen to some tapes and peruse a book every day just to keep the language in my mind, but I'm holding out hope that I'll learn more once I'm there, and that I can make due with the flimsy foundation I've got.

We'll see how it goes. And as a testament to my skill… Have you heard this one?
Por que el pollo camino sobre el calle? El podia decir tan que "Estoy aqui!"


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sharon: Sitting here in Austin

Well, here we go. Despite Max's strong protests, the Costa Rica trip blog is now up and running. And I've even coerced a tepid promise from him that he'll guest-post from time to time.

15 days until take-off, and even he is getting excited; while I've been periodically shouting, "I can't believe we're leaving so SOON" for several months, he said it this morning, with feeling. Lots of little details to take care of: gifties for Khalida (Cracklin' Oat Bran, face paint, a mattress pad), lawn care, paying bills in advance. Even though we're trying to be minimalists, we also have to figure out how the heck to carry all this stuff.

We went for a hike on the greenbelt this morning, and the kids eagerly shed their clothes and plunged themselves into the river to spend an hour throwing rocks and splashing around. Their enthusiasm bodes well, since that's pretty much a standard activity in Montezuma.