The Elusive Motmot and the Noni Fruit

After 5 months now in Costa Rica on our new adventurewe have seen many things that we haven’t seen elsewhere. Some are amazing. Some are strange. Some are mysterious. Some are, well, hard to describe. I thought I’d share the good, the odd, and the silly.

In fairness, these things may exist outside of Costa Rica. Indeed, several do. In all my travels though, I haven’t seen these before…so take them for what they are.

Of course, I could start here with some of the amazing things Costa Rica has to offer that many people know already, such as the incredible surfing, particularly in Tamarindo. The coffee here is obviously wonderful – and we are from Seattle, so we can appreciate it. We hear the diving here is also incredible. One of our plans is the get certified when most of the tourists leave. We also heard that the rain forests are amazing. That’s another upcoming trip. And there is yoga here almost everywhere, at least where we are. We love it and spend a lot of time with Sattva Yoga by the beach. My “yoga spreadsheet” tells me I’ve done about 337 poses out of the 1051 I’ve collected so far. I need to pick up my pace!

The following are things that you may have not heard about. By the end of this maybe you will be afraid you have J

The Elusive Motmot

The motmot is a bird that Deb discovered. This bird is found throughout the forests of Central America but are evidently very hard to find. We won’t tell the pretty poison dart frogs here that motmots eats them. Of course, the poison dart frogs also seem to be elusive.

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The elusive Motmot outside our window

The Noni Fruit

The noni fruit, or Morinda citrifolia, is not unique to Costa Rica. You can find it in other places such as Australia and Southeast Asia. It seems to favor tropical places like where we are. The noni fruit tree is in the coffee family, but you’d never know it. The fruit neither looks like, nor tastes like, coffee. It does provide a range of health benefits. Evidently, its juice runs $50-100 in parts of the US. We have a tree next to our new (rental) house that sits all alone in an empty lot next to our wall. I tried it. The fruit is bitter and the smell is, well, there is a reason that it is also known as the “vomit fruit” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). The smell is associated with the fruit ripening. I guess I haven’t found a ripe one. Despite the smell, the fruit is rather cute and we would never have learned about it if we hadn’t come here.

noni fruit

The noni fruit

Bag Driers

I hadn’t seen nor heard of bag driers before coming here. Our friend Sherry makes these and they are not only beautiful, but useful. You basically use them to dry out your Zip-Loc (or other) bags. We try to be green, but we never reused Zip-Loc bags in Seattle – though we did reuse grocery bags as “poop” bags J Here, gallon Zip-Loc bags tend to be harder to find and more expensive when you do find them. Many plastic things here are expensive. We started reusing them before we knew about bag driers. We learned about them at yoga and they’ve now made our list of different things you find here. In writing this, I did see that you can find these on Etsy.

bag drier 2

A bag drier by Sheri Creamer

Motorcycle “Vests”

Here’s one of the stranger things we’ve seen here. There are a lot of motorcycles in Costa Rica. It’s not surprising given the price of cars. Now, you can evidently ride your motorcycle without a helmet. At least, the vast majority of riders do and seem to get away with it. It is pretty hot here. We’ve also seen 2, 3, even 4 people – whole families – on a single motorcycle. None were wearing helmets. But, every rider I’ve seen wears an “X” shaped reflective harness. Every one. I wonder what the fine is for not wearing one.

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The motorcycle reflective harness

Evidently, ATV and scooter riders don’t have to wear the reflective thingy. Maybe it’s because they are not as cool 🙂

atvscooter

Look, mom, no harness

Strange Tubes on SUVs

Many SUVs here have these long tubes tied to their top racks. We haven’t seen any on cars. We don’t know what’s in them. They have curved ends so they don’t carry long poles. We are thinking that they are for the rain. You see, when it rains here in the “green season”, it really rains. A lot. There are major ponds and rivers to drive through we hear. We’ve seen a number of newer SUVs with those exhaust pipes that stick up like snorkels. Given those and the rain, we think these strange tubes may be retrofit or home-made versions of the snorkels – to deploy when you hit those deep rivers. Of course, they could just be decorations.

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Update! I got a photo of one.

Side Slung Fanny Packs

Most of us know that fanny packs are now uncool. If you didn’t, pretend you did; it’s not worth the embarrassment. For the record, I don’t have a fanny pack. I have a waterproof wallet with a belt strap for surfing so I can carry money, ID, keys, etc. This allows me to wear it as a belt (hidden in my trunks). It’s not a fanny pack.

However, we’ve seen many men here wear what you would call a “fanny” pack across their shoulder, with the pack sitting in the middle of their back. It’s pretty fashionable and doesn’t look at all like a fanny pack strapped around your shoulder. They make a nice addition when worn with the Motorcycle straps. I might be wrong though; they could be “shoulder belt packs” and not actual “fanny” packs.

I would have tried to get a photograph of this, but, well, how do you walk up to a large, tough-looking dude and ask if you can grab a picture of him with his “not-a-fanny-pack”?

Leatherback Sea Turtles Laying Eggs

One of the more amazing things we’ve seen here already is leatherback sea turtles nesting. Leatherback turtles are the largest of turtles and are endangered. 5 of the 7 worldwide species of these noble creatures choose to lay their eggs along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Costa Rica. They must like it here. Marine turtles have been doing it for more than 100 million years.

We had the chance to check this out during their nesting season – roughly November-February across the many species. We all went to Playa Minas late at night during a full moon at high tide with our friends Eri and Adam. It’s when you have the best chance to spot them. There was one tour and a number of other folks there. You can’t bring white flashlights; it confuses them since they think it’s the moon and get disoriented. Most of us had red lights – well, except the idiot who set his car alarm, which of course went off and started making horrible noises and started blinking its bright white high-beams.

We had the great opportunity to see one come in from the surf and “hoof it” up past where the water line was. We couldn’t see much and we didn’t take photos. About 10 minutes later, we saw it crawling back to the sea, and at a much faster clip than you would imagine a turtle is capable of. This one was fairly small; typically they are bigger than people.

leatherback sea turtle

CC-BYLeatherback Sea Turtle Hiding its Eggs captured by RustinPC

Volcanoes

We’re from Seattle and so we like volcanoes as our natural-disaster-inducing-entity-of-choice. I came from California and gave up earthquakes and Deb came from Kansas, famous for their tornadoes. Volcanoes clearly are not unique to Costa Rica. However, Costa Rica has 112 volcanoes. With only about 50,000 square km (that’s 20,000 square miles for our US friends), this has to be a pretty unique spot in terms of volcanoes per square kilometer.

One of the prettiest is Volcán Arenal. Folks thought it was just a mountain until it erupted in 1968 and it’s been very active since then. It sits next to a lake and has been a pretty big attraction here, complete with hot springs, rain forest and caves – all of which we will be visiting next week. Stay tuned for some (hopefully) amazing photos.

Stone Spheres

This one has intrigued me since we arrived and it is definitely unique in the world to Costa Rica. To this day it remains a mystery of antiquity.

While Cost Rica does not have the incredible Incan, Mayan, and Aztec ruins other Central American countries have, we have stone balls, known as Las Bolas locally. They are basically large spheres made of granite or basalt that measure from a few hundred centimeters to 2 meters (6.6 feet). You find them only in the Diquis Delta area, near Golfito in southern Costa Rica. They are all man-made.

They range from 600 to 1600 years old in most reports and tend to be associated with the Diquis culture. Reports vary pretty widely but most folks agree that there are about 200-300 of them. Some reports say that they are within a few millimeters of roundness. Most have been moved from their original location and many have been damaged by machinery, treasure hunters or others. It’s hard to say what their original characteristics truly were. Nonetheless, they are pretty amazing feats of craftsmanship. And no one knows what their purpose was.

Some experts have noted that the few spheres that remain in their original positions resemble constellations. The Finca 6 site in Corcovado National Park has many spheres in their original spots, or rough diagrams of where they were. Many have a north-south orientation. I don’t provide any links here. It seems there are as many people out debunk the mystery as there are claiming everything from associations with Atlantis, extraterrestrials, etc. I, for one, love it that there is still an unexplained mystery that truly has no good hypotheses. We will definitely be going there to see them ourselves.

stone spheres

CC-BYStone Spheres from the National Museum Inner Garden by Mario André Cordero

Video Jugadores

Continuing with the theme of mysteries, here is one:

video jugadores

What do you notice? Of course, it is three boys playing a video game. What struck me was that it isn’t just three boys playing. One, JJ, the son of our landlord is 6. Aidan, our son, is 11. And Jairo, our caretaker’s son, is 17. JJ and Jairo live next door. When was the last time you saw three boys, unrelated, with this span of ages playing together and having fun in the US? It’s not just video games. They have a great time every day.

Things may be different in the schools here. They may have all of the problems with clics, bullies, getting along, etc. that we have in the US. I’ve just never seen that diversity of ages in “dudes having fun” in the US. Call me odd, but perhaps even the kids young adults here practice pura vida.

Pura Vida

I’ll end with the 11th – because we all know “11 is better than 10.” I’d put pura vida on the list here. I know I’ve written about it before, and referenced it several times. It remains something purely Costa Rican. Bing tells me it originated in interactions between surfers and the local Ticos in the 1950s.

In doing some research for this blog, I found another fairly unique thing about Costa Rica that’s related. The people here, particularly in the coastal region where we live, are among the most long-lived people in the world. In fact, the area around us has been declared one of the few “blue zones” in the world, which according to Wikipedia is “…a demographic and/or geographic area of the world where people live measurably longer lives, as described in Dan Buettner’s book, ‘The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from people who lived the longest.’”

Why? In addition to diet, water, and physical activity, the ideal lifestyle characteristics cited by the Blue Zone research included close inter-generational relationships. Hmmm. I think we saw an example of that in #10. The thing is that things like this happen pretty easily, pretty genuinely, and pretty quickly here. Maybe pura vida has been here all along, but the surfers and Ticos gave it a name.

Bertrand Russel said “To understand a name you must be acquainted with the particular of which it is a name.

If you truly want to understand what pura vida means, you’ll just have to come and experience it. We have a guest room now. Pura vida.

Addresses in Costa Rica

In our new adventure in Costa Rica, we’ve discovered several interesting things about Costa Rican culture. In some previous posts I wrote about some things that were better here in Costa Rica and also some things that were not as great. One big difference that I haven’t talked about yet is addresses. The way mailing addresses are handled here is unique – at least to me in all my worldwide travels. They make for some very interesting unintended consequences.

Here is our street address in Playa Potrero:

Del Bar La Perla
200 metros sur y 300 metros este
en la esquina de Avenida Cuatro y Calle Mango
Surfside Estates, Playa Potrero, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Here’s the translation for those of you who don’t speak Spanish:

From the bar La Perla
200 meters south and 300 meters east
at the corner of 4th Avenue and Mango Street
Surfside Estates, Playa Potrero, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

You can see a few key features right away. There is no house number. It uses a landmark for reference (the bar La Perla in this case). It provides distances from the landmark almost like a pirate map. And most subtly, it doesn’t fully differentiate the address from other addresses that might also fit the directional criteria. It does, however, seem to work here. Mail gets delivered. Mostly.

Before I get deeper into some interesting things about addresses here, you might think that these sorts of addresses are primarily in the outer or lower population areas. That’s not the case. This last week I gave a colloquium at the Interaction Design Department at University Veritas in San Jose. I stayed at a cute little pensione-style hotel called Casa Voltaire. Here is its address:

De la Casa Italia
50 al este y 75 al norte.
Calle sin salida. Avenida 8 y calle 31,
San José, Costa Rica.

Or:

From the Casa Italia
50 to the east and 75 to the north.
Dead-end street. 8th Avenue and 31st Street,
San José, Costa Rica.

This particular address was interesting in that it was indeed at the end of a dead-end street, along with 6-7 others, including one other pensione. Fortunately, there was a sign out front so you could differentiate it from the 6-7 other buildings with the same address.

I didn’t survey many addresses in San Jose, but the ones I did – my pensione, the Interaction Design School, the restaurant where I ate, the hotel where I caught my bus – all had addresses like this. According to locals, it works this way throughout San Jose and elsewhere in Costa Rica.

These addresses may seem a bit challenging as is. However, add to it the fact that at least in most of the small towns in the Guanacaste area where we live, there are no street signs. We have nothing around us that would tell you where Calle Mango or Avenida 8 are, except a GPS (which few locals have).

Imagine being a mailperson here. You’d have to have an incredible amount of knowledge of the town. You could probably double as a tour guide.

There are some fun, interesting, and possibly frustrating implications in an address system like this, not the least of which is that you learn quickly how long measurements in meters are (for our metrically-challenged American friends).

For example, most addresses seem to rely on a landmark. Well, what’s the landmark’s address then? Or, do they “daisy chain” landmark addresses? Is the La Perla bar a certain distance from, say, the Super Wendy grocery store? It turns out that in most of the cases I’ve seen the answer is “no.” La Perla’s address is:

Calle principal,
Playa Potrero, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Basically, this tells you that La Perla is on the “main street” running through Playa Potrero. You’d have to know where on main street.

Another interesting thing we’ve seen is how people “augment” the system. Our Spanish teacher, Ivette, for example, brilliantly has people put her phone number at the bottom of her address. There are several houses that have the same address as hers. I can imagine folks adding “blue house” or other additions to their addresses. If we actually used ours for mail I would.

Consider what might be a very frustrating event if your local landmark changed its name or just went away. If La Perla changed their name, it would affect a large number of street addresses in Surfside. As in the U.S. these addresses are in all your legal documents as well as address books of friends, etc. If your address changes here, you need to get a new title for your car and that involves a lawyer. It’s very good incentive to keep the local landmark places thriving.

This system evidently grew out of the agrarian nature of Costa Rica and the fact that many cities are small. It is pure “Tico.” I think it says something incredibly powerful about small towns and tight-knit communities. Everyone seems to know everyone and people don’t tend to move around much. I’m sure if they did, the mailperson would be able to give them the history of their place.

Of course, there are downsides to living in a small town. Everyone does indeed seem to know your business. But then again, if you are a visitor in town trying to find a friend’s address, you may just find that people here can direct you. It’s a stark contrast for us compared to Seattle where few people seem to want to know their neighbors. It’s also a charming reminder of why people form communities in the first place. We are social creatures after all.

I understand that Costa Rica is now moving toward real street addresses. The two towns of Moravia and Coronado have evidently completed the transformation. San Jose is starting the process by getting street signs up. Can you imagine what it will be like to transform a city that large?

Playa Potrero will likely be far down the list and that’s okay with us. Addresses are just one of the odder endearing qualities of this place. I’m sure there are a few expats here who get frustrated with all of this. I think we are with the locals, though. It’s just one more aspect of “pura vida.” I know there are a lot of us who can use more of that. Pura Vida!

Updates

We are settling into our new adventure here in Costa Rica. The bigger things in our lives are underway now, particularly our young adults’ unschooling journey. Amid the nooks and crannies of the last few weeks, we have some more mundane, but fun updates that we wanted to share.

We are now more mobile! We just got four bikes for all of us – three mountain bikes and one beach bike which we call the “grocery bike.” While in Tamarindo, we found a bike shop and got a great deal on them. This is a huge help for us since we had no other transportation and a very limited budget for car rental.

We had been walking everywhere, which is great to an extent. For some context, Surfside, where we live, is very small. It has a few fun bars, a grocery store or two, and a nice beach. Playa Potrero is the closest town. It’s about 20 minutes away and is also a small town. Playa Flamingo is bigger and has a hardware store, bank, rental car place, doctor and pharmacy, etc. It is about a 35 minute walk. Brasilito is about a 50 minute walk and Tamarindo (and surfing) is probably 3-4 hours walking.

The bikes give us convenient access not only to things like groceries but also our growing list of activities, starting with yoga. Deb and I found an amazing class in a huge cabana overlooking the beach. We go several days a week now. It’s not as challenging as P90X but it has its tough spots. We love it. And, well, you can’t beat the view!

I’m really excited about finally finding soccer! There is a pickup game in Playa Potrero Tuesdays and Saturdays. It starts late and ends when you can’t see the ball anymore. I’m the only gringo, though Deb will start going too.

Soccer here, as you might imagine, is very different from the league games we usually play in in Seattle. The group ranges in age from teenagers to someone else in their 50s besides me. Most are in their early 20s or 30s. And there are no women. The play is much more centered around fancy footwork, as you might expect. It is also very hot still late in the day and so this focus keeps the running more minimal. Of course, that’s not how I play. I play more like an American – lots of running and speed, far less on the fancy skills front. I was exhausted at the end of the game (not to mention the long walk home). But, I think I surprised a few of them. It was fun to hear a few whistles (more derision of someone who got “beat” than for the person who did it) when this 52 year old gringo beat several of the 20-somethings to the ball or took it from them and ran. J But, I’m looking at this as a great opportunity to learn the Tico way playing. Did I mention that I don’t miss the cold, freezing rain?

We found a gym in Flamingo so that Vie and I can start working out. Vie wants to start getting more toned. The bikes will make this much easier than the long walk there and back. It will be very hot working out there – so hot that they close from 12-3 every day. It should get us fit fast.

We also found some more hang-outs, each with their specialties. We initially found Maxwell’s and it is still our go-to hangout. It has karaoke Tuesdays, poker on Thursdays (yet to be tried) and the best dollar tacos on Fridays. La Perla, one of the oldest places, has karaoke on Saturdays and that’s a fun time. As an aside, karaoke seems big here. So do country songs (I better get my twang on before I try it). The Shack has really great food and gets local musicians in weekly. Our yoga class also eats breakfast there. It was started by a restaurateur from New York. On Sundays, El Coconut Beach Club has live music and dancing. We don’t go there for the food, though.

One of our most mundane, but fun activities is coming back from doing something hot and sweaty – which is pretty much everything here, including a bike ride to get groceries – and jumping straight into the pool. You can’t imagine how refreshing that is!

We’ve started finding a great rhythm here now. We’ve met a lot of fun people around town too and we see them everywhere (except soccer). It also underscores that Surfside/Playa Potrero is indeed a small town. Everyone knows everyone – and evidently everyone knows everyone’s business.

While we expect that we will mostly bike, we did have a transportation dilemma. Having no car means we can’t surf easily. Our beach really has no waves and isn’t even good for boogie boarding. Tamarindo and Playa Grande on the other hand are two of the best short wave long board surfing spots on the planet. Robert August (famous from Endless Summer) ranks Tamarindo as #1. And, Deb and I have become completely enraptured with surfing after we recently spend a few days learning to surf at the famous Witches Rock Surf Camp.

We have a budget for rental cars, but not enough to surf as frequently as we’d like. The rates also go up from $30/day to $150/a day in high season, December and January. Cars here are ridiculously expensive here – up to twice as expensive. One example: our yoga teacher is selling her 2006 Jeep Cherokee for $13,500. We can’t imagine though living here for a year and not surfing a lot. We love where we are and don’t want to move. Tamarindo is too touristy. What to do? Enter “Moose.”

Now everyone knows that if you find a dog (or rabbit, bird, etc.) that has no home, don’t name it. It is a sure sign you are going to keep it. Well, it works for cars too, evidently.

We found a car that looks like it belongs in the jungle, and that it’s been driving in the jungle for decades. It’s pretty beaten up. It has many beauty marks, missing pieces, and lots of character. We found it in a Facebook ad, took a test drive, had a mechanic check it out, and then, we kind-of named it.

moose

The picture we have here really shows Moose in his best light. Moose doesn’t have any computers (our MINI for example had 40), which means it is easy to fix. Moose is Japanese (a 1990 Mitsubishi Montero). In Costa Rica, Japanese cars/trucks are the best to own because the parts are easy to get, reasonably cheap, and the mechanics all know how to fix them. We expect to have to feed Moose many parts over time (in contrast, Jeep parts – and we love Jeeps – are crazy expensive). Moose was $3000. That’s actually less than what we budgeted for periodic rental cars, even when you add in needed repairs. And Moose comes with a mechanic, sort of. The person coordinating the purchase for the SUV is a fun Austrian mechanic named Tomas.

So, we are taking a plunge, and a risk, and buying Moose today. We have papers to transfer. In Costa Rica, that involves a lawyer. Then, Moose gets to go to the doctor and have a few things fixed. He probably needs a good bath after that as well. He’ll be our surf car. Once we have him back from the doc, add a few surf stickers, a surfboard rack, and some boards. Then, we’ll look like real surfers. We just need to get our skills on par with the look!

Pura Vida!