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October 26, 2005

Cow Wrestling in Las Delicias

I didn't take my camera. I should have known better. Always take the camera.

As I arrived on the beach on the Sixaola river to cross back to Chase from Las Delicias Arriba/Los Almacenes, there was a very friendly very drunk hanging out with a more sober, but equally friendly guy. The Drunk Cow Wrestler, or DCW as I shall call him, was about 2/3 through a bottle of Seco (the standard panamanian booze) and offered me some of his "vino de cana".

I declined, and soon after a couple of people showed up with a cow on two ropes. I then got to watch their attempts to make the cow swim across the river. This is where the camera would have been handy. Particularly when DCW got involved. They used a combination of pulling, scaring, and holding the cow to get it towards the water, until it lost its balance and had to swim. It was easy from there.. until they got to the other side, tried to load the animal into a truck, and I got my camera back.

This is where DCW (red shirt) got a chance to show his skills.

It was a miracle that he didn't get hurt. He stuck his hand in various places the I would think would be somewhat sensitive, and at one point, probably for effect, I think he actually kissed the animal. Bizarre.

And I am thinking... how inefficient is this. One cow. 3 guys, a boat, and a truck. To make $300 or so.

As I left, the cow still did not cooperate, even though (or, more likely, because) they cut its ear "so that it would bleed and be nicer". Yeah, right.


Posted by rick at 04:09 PM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2005

Top and Upper Upper Pacuare

Robyn and I had both not paddled in a while, so to warm up and also to try out the new boat (Riot Prankster) we decided to start with the Pejivalle River. The sign at the hardware store finally solved the mystery of what this river is actually called. Most people spell it Pejibaye, like the starchy palm fruit that is called pifa in Panama and chonta in Ecuador; but Pejivalle makes a lot more sense. After all, rivers tend to flowin valleys...

We paddled the lower section first, which turned out to be the right decision because the new boat took in a lot of water through 4 large holes that somebody had drilled through the sides. The folks at the Pejivalle hardware store (Marco and ?) were wonderfully helpful, and even let us borrow a drill to get rid a rusty bolt that held the seat in the wrong place.  It's so nice to hang out in small rural towns; people are very nice and incredibly helpful. We now have an invitation to stay at Marco's the next time we are back in the area.

Meanwhile, Robyn demonstrated that she was familiar with the versatility of the only tool you really ever need.

The upper section, especially above the school house, was fun. We took our time, scouted occasionally, and even found a little bit of play further down.
The next day, we decided to paddle with Top and Upper Upper Pacuare (inflationary naming not my fault...) with Andrew and John; John's girlfriend Gretchen offered to drive shuttle, and was nice enough to keep this offer up after finding out that she was going to have to learn how to use a manual transmission in a Nissan Sentra with 5 people in the car and 4 kayaks on the roof on a dirt road.

She did incredibly well, but the road got worse and worse, and eventually we stopped a Jeep that was coming the other way and hired the driver to take us to the put in. The road was absolutely not passable for a passenger car. At the put in , we found out that the owner of the farm there does not allow boaters access to the river but he was out of town so it didn't matter. The river itself was fun; we finished the top section in about an hour and had lunch with Gretchen who was waiting at the bridge in San Marcos (?). She had run into XXX, a Tico who works in a nature reserve on the pacific side near Nicaragua. They showed her various plants they found in the jungle, including interestingly shaped Calabazas, Cacao, some kind of moss, and a plant that has a sap that irritates the skin. Who ever said being a shuttle bunny was boring?

The paddle was fun, though we had to go quite fast since we were running out of daylight. The water, except for its temperature, reminded me of the class IV section of the Yuba I paddled this year. The nicest thing about it was that although it was challenging, most rapids were boat-scoutable, with many eddies in mid rapid that would have permitted bailing out. But every time, from the eddy or on the way there, I saw either another eddy with the possibility to bail, or the end of the rapid. Robyn and I ended up having to do two rescues, swimmer and boat, but no injuries or frustrations, and the only casualty was one booty which was lost during the swim. Robyn did a great job dealing with the rescue situations and I think we worked together very well.

We arrived at the take out bridge at around 5pm, half an hour before dark. Gretchen was there, but not the Sentra. What was described as a few km of road in the guidebok turned out to be an hour and half of 4WD road. Luckily, Gretchen's new friends found her along the way and offered to drive her in their... Geo Tracker. With no roof rack. But, it did surprisingly well with 6 people and 4 boats and gear, and we made it back just fine.


Posted by rick at 05:05 PM | Comments (0)

Back in Turrialba

It's wonderful to be back in Latin America again. Every time, I am amazed how nice people are, which puts me in a good mood and people get even nicer. Which
is helpful, because as a result, I get amused over (and not annoyed at) the little things... like, for example, driving directions in Costa Rica.

Here is a typical situation:

Me: Where can I buy waterproof tanks with big lids to store stuff?
Tico: There is a place nearby here, they have lots. It's easy to find.
Me: What is it called, where is it, and how do I get there?
[Varios Ticos muttering and deciding the only thing they know is how to get there.]
Tico [walks outside, signaling me to follow, points at a bird sitting on a power line on the other side of the street]:
You go down there, then this way, and then you get to a roundabout, and you go like this, then you...
Me: Ok, so I go this way [point down the street], and then make a right where that green car is?
Tico: Yes, you go right [points to left] and then you get to a second roundabout and then...
Me: So, my first turn is to the left [motion turning left]?
Tico: [looks at his hands, as if trying to remember which one is which]
Hm, maybe I better draw you a map.
[goes inside. opens half-used notebook to random page, and starts doodling, while occasionally muttering something. The doodle starts out at a place where I have to pass between a park and a high school, on what he claims is the northern side of the park. The park is actually on the real map I have, so I get hopeful. I recognize two roundabouts, and the doodle continues over half the sheet, with many twists and turns.]
Me: Ok, so is this all one road and I just go straight, or do I have to turn?
Tico: Mostly straight, you just go like this[points to doodle]
Me: [asking a trick question here. This is a common technique I use. Ask a simple question
that they will certainly be able to answer and that will either confirm correctness of previous
more complicated explanation, or expose a major misunderstanding]: So is it further out of town than the train station?
Tico: Yes, it's further down.
[I observe that this is inconsistent with his explanation of the orientation of the
school and the park].
Me: [feeling like the dumb clueless gringo] I think I'll just take a taxi.
Tico #2 (#1's boss), to me: Maybe it's better if he goes with you. You can borrow him if you bring him back.
Tico #1: Ok, good idea.
Me: Perfect, thank you.

And thus, I found the place (la casa del tanque, Paso Ancho, El Carmen) without getting lost.

The amazing thing here is that I am so helpless in spite of being already used to the most peculiar aspects of getting around in Costa Rica. I find it pretty normal now when someone's address is "From the Fig, 800 meters south and 25m east" [Fig refering to a large Fig tree that was cut down in the 1970s, and 800 meters meaning 8 blocks, which can be 300m or
2km or anything else, and 25m meaning a few houses down.] And I know that there is no Avenida between Av 12 and Av 14, just houses, because Av 13 is on the other side of town, where all the odd-numbered Avenidas are.  And I am not surprised when a taxi driver, when asked what street I am on, says "I don't know, I don't do street addresses".

And yet... I still get lost. Now I remember why 4 years ago I decided to always take taxis in Costa Rica...

But back to my wonderful day. Luis at the Hotel Interamericano recognized me as I walked through town, and greeted my warmly when I arrived at the hotel. Mika, the cat, was also still there, and I pulled up a couple of pictures of Mika as a kitten in 2001. Luis got a real kick out of that. Mika did not recognize herself but started purring anyway.

Luis even remembered that I know Kayakera Chinita, and asked me to say hi. Blanca wasn't there, but has added many more signs to the interior design of her hotel. It reminds me of Germany, and then I remember that Blanca used to work in HR in the US, and the last place I saw that many signs was on the door of the HR person at a startup I worked for. Coincidence?

I was amazed that I remembered where the button for opening the front door is. And the computer at the hotel is still the same ancient Mac, with the
same sign telling people to not touch it without assistance, which they are happy to give.

Further events of the day were similarly pleasant, and included a visit to CATIE, buying seeds, and catching up with Manuel from Costa Rica Extreme, planning our expedition to the rivers near Las Delicias.

The only unpleasant part of my arrival was deciding what, if anything, to declare on the customs form, which warns that there is a fine of "100 central american pesos (US$ 100)" for not declaring things. The currency in costa rica is the Colon, and 100 of them are about $0.20. It further explains that you have to declare everything you bring in, except for luggage. Luggage is anything that you might "reasonable need for your business in the country". There is normally an exemption of $500 of things you don't reasonably need, but it is unclear when it is granted and when it isn't. I decided I need a wakeboard for my travels, and I never travel without my inflatable trampoline, but I don't "need" 4 identical NiMh battery chargers so I declared them. In the end, it didn;t matter, they didn't even look at the form, decided all my stuff looked camping equipment through on the xray, and let me pass.

So even this was entertaining.


Posted by rick at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)