Some Time has Passed

The bulk of the posts that were written in the original site heartseasecottage.blogspot.com were written by my husband or co-written by he and I during the year that we lived in Costa Rica. We are living back in the U.S.A. now and I have been in the process of migrating the stories from the previous blog to this one, with the intention of continuing to tell stories from our Costa Rican adventures. We have been home since May of 2010 and much has gone on, including two trips to Costa Rica. Some time has passed since the days when we lived on the mountain in Costa Rica, but our hearts still dwell there and we visit when we can.

This blog is intended to be a platform for sharing our stories and to be an on going travelogue of our continuing adventures in Costa Rica. Over the next few months I will be adding my personal stories from our time of living in Costa Rica,  my husband’s entries being the main ones on here at the present. I will also be posting about our most recent trips and all the fun that we had. I hope that as well as entertaining you,  these stories will give you an insiders view of living and traveling in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Keep checking in because there will be much fresh material in the upcoming days.

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Watching Toucans

Just a few steps away from the guest cottage out on our farm stands an old mango tree, tall and majestic – a solitary sentinel, keeping watch over the fields. But this is Costa Rica and nothing should be completely serious, so this tree manages to keep in step by hosting one of God’s more colorful creatures. In an old hole in the side of the trunk live Mr and Mrs Toucan, who have spent the spring sitting on a nest full of eggs.

We learned much about toucans through these months. Typically, when someone approaches the tree one of the toucans will fly out of the nest to a nearby branch to eyeball the intruder and assess the risk to the nest. Because of their overly-large beak, “eyeballing” is a definite process of maneuvering the head so that an eyeball is actually pointing at what the bird wants to look at. Comical to watch, really.

The toucans are very protective of their nest. Even after having assessed the risk, the bird will not return to the nest as long as the intruder remains in the vicinity. Since we wanted to observe the on-nest behavior, we had to adopt a less-visible strategy for our observations. In the end, we arrived super-early in the morning, set up the video camera on a tripod, pointed at the hole in the tree, and crept away – to return several hours later.

Of course, with this strategy, we then had to watch several hours of very boring video to catch the rare instances of toucans entering and exiting the hole in the tree. Naturally, we didn’t get it right the first time – we were too close to see anything except the entry and exit. Next time we were too far away for the video to really convey good details – and so it goes. After about 15 hours of video, we have both an understanding of their behavioral routines and some good video to share with readers of this blog.

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

By now, the babies have hatched – but we are no longer living in Costa Rica. Another family is there, watching the baby toucans as they appear in the opening of the hole and begin to fly. It was an altogether special time we had, living on our rented farm in the mountains there – it is a different time in which we now find ourselves, back in North Carolina for a season of life. There are many stories yet to tell, with many memories captured from our year in another realm of existence.

Stay tuned, dear readers – I expect you’ve not heard the last of this crazy adventurer yet!

Butterflies in Costa Rica

Almost every butterfly-watcher in Costa Rica gets a fluttery heart (pun intended) when a Blue Morpho comes into sight. But it’s a rare event when you actually get enough time to whip out the camera, focus and get the shot – it seems they never land! I got lucky, and then I got a surprise!

What you can’t see in either this picture or the one following is that the signature blue color is only on the topside of the wings. When the wings are closed, or in the up position, it’s an ordinary brown butterfly – which blends into the background admirably. Hmmm – maybe that’s why I’ve only seen them when flying by!

Well, be that as it may, take the opportunity to enlarge the first photo by clicking on it. Then look at the blue section of the wings – I am reminded of the movie “2010”…so many stars!

In general I’ve found butterflies hard to photograph; these few photos are a mere teaser for the 1000 species of butterflies native to Costa Rica! Perhaps it’s best to come see for yourself. I highly recommend the experience.

Bird-watching in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been a lot of things to us – a place to draw away from many entanglements back in the states while we grew quiet and learned to relax and listen, a great opportunity to hike a lot of big hills and explore for waterfalls, a chance to see many varieties of plants, a chance to get a lot of dental work done very cheaply – the list goes on. Costa Rica has been a very precious time and place for us, in so many ways.

Reading guidebooks and cruising around on the internet brings several of these purposes into focus, and more. Another which jumps out at me, as I Google for Costa Rica, involves some phenomenal opportunities for bird-watching!

That prospect didn’t provoke me to come here, yet I have greatly enjoyed the birdsongs which awaken me daily around 5am – what an orchestra I have right outside my window! Over the course of this past year, we’ve pointed our cameras into the trees time and again, with the following collection of precious images.

Where possible, I have tried to find out what type each of these birds is, using a combination of birding guides and internet searches. I guess it is a testimony to the number of uncommon species found here, that – even using guidebooks which speak specifically about bird species in Costa Rica, I still don’t know the names of many birds I’ve encountered. Oh well, that doesn’t make them any less beautiful!

This fellow should have been easy to match to some picture somewhere; his coloration is very distinctive. With the blue beak, his jet-black body with that solid patch of red on the tips of the wings, I really expected to be able to tell you what kind of bird this is – but alas.

This is one of my favorite birds here; we have a pair resident on our farm. I get to see them every day, even though they are quite shy and run away (they usually don’t fly). I had no idea how rare they are, until one day I had a Costa Rican guy out doing some electrical work for me. He saw the birds and got all excited; I was like – yeah, I see them. To be sure, he straightened me out on my understanding!

They were shown in none of the books or internet searches I did, so I don’t know the official name for these birds. They are a form of duck, even though their feet are not webbed. Their legs are jointed, like those of a stork, and they come out of their hiding places looking for the rain puddles.

Their coloring is very subtle, except for the color of their legs. When the body is in direct sunlight, it positively shimmers and the range of colors is breath-taking. But that’s rare even for here, where we see them frequently – they seldom step out of the shadows and into the sunshine.

With the massive quantity of rain we receive here, things grow quickly. At the same time, there is a whole part of the ecosystem which is necessary to help things decay so that there is not a tremendous pile of dead stuff laying around. The crazy variety of bugs which labor in these processes translates into food for the Lineated Woodpecker. Their efforts also result in holes which become homes for other species. All things work together for good, to borrow a phrase.

On our farm, right as the driveway takes a right turn towards the guest cottage, stands a large mango tree with a hole where a branch used to be. Many times every day we are able to see either Mr or Mrs Keel-billed Toucan emerging from their hole, where they take turns sitting on the nest. In late-April or early-May there will be little baby toucans to evoke squeals of delight from onlookers – all beak and a spot of tail-feathers just to balance them out for flight.

Oddly enough, with this seemingly-brilliant coloration, they are able to disappear right before your eyes with just the barest movement. As you look from the ground, when they “assume the position”, they look just like every other branch on the tree. Something in how they straighten out their beak makes this so, for the instant he turns his head you can again see his beak and all the rest of those brilliant colors!

If you’ve never studied a toucan’s beak before, I suggest you click on this picture and zoom in on the beak. Such disjointed use of color there, and yet it somehow manages to come together into a cohesive thing of beauty! (To zoom in, using Windows, hold down the Ctrl key and hit the + key. You can do that repeatedly, zooming in further with each keystroke. You zoom back out with Ctrl and the minus key.) Do it now…see what I mean?

This fellow is, I think, a Boat-billed Flycatcher, getting his name from the distinctive stripe around his head. Flycatchers, in general, eat bugs they snag while in mid-flight….but this fellow stopped in to eat some fruit. Maybe he was confused; the watermelon sure did look good!

That’s one of the bird-attracting tricks used by, for example, the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Another means of attraction is the planting of flowering bushes. The combination makes for great afternoons taking pictures of all this wildlife!

Judging mostly from the split tail on this hummingbird, I think it is one of the Woodnymph varieties. There are several, including the violet-crowned and the emerald-bellied. This is neither, yet still beautiful. There are over 60 species of hummingbirds here in Costa Rica, according to some article I read – I wonder, though, how you could ever begin to count?

They flit here and hover there, always moving too fast to fix your bead on them. To me this one looks like he has a sock scarf around his neck, and a waistcoat to go with those tails. But the club to which he would be going, dressed like that and in those colors, would have to be something frequented by the Joker, of Batman fame. Egads! Anyway, he is saddled with the pretentious name of Magnificent Hummingbird. No wonder he gets dressed up to go out!

On the other extreme of coloration is this next fellow. He is robed in elegance, has fine lines and uses color as a graceful ornament instead of trying to draw attention with brash highlights.

I have no idea what kind of hummingbird he is, however. The longer I looked for identification of these various hummingbirds, the more I became educated in their overly-complicated system of naming. In layman’s language it goes kind of like this: “Ummm, let’s see. This one has a blue-spot by the ear, and a green chest. Let’s call it a…violet-eared emerald-chested…..flyalot.” And that’s how you get these specie names!

So I’ll take my shot at it and call this an emerald-throated mottled-wing hummingbird. I can’t go wrong with that now, can I?

I love the coloration on this one; it reminds me of chalk art on a sidewalk. He is incredibly beautiful….and pretty rare. I’ve not seen this kind often, so this was a special treat!

Bird identification guides provide a name for this one – he’s a Three-striped Warbler. I’m glad for a moniker, but the fact that there’s a name does not make him any easier to identify. He was sitting quietly inside a bush; I only saw him because he turned his head around to straighten out some feathers. Fortunately, I was ready with my camera!

A special treat around here are the Montezuma’s Oropendola. I am confused what the plural of that name should be; rudimentary Latin class tells me that the singular should end in “um” and the plural in “a”, in which case this name is already pluralized. (Did I just get myself in more trouble – can you make a verb out of the word “plural”?)

Anyway, to stick with the safer subject of bird-watching, this fabulous, large bird has a most unusual nest and a very distinctive call. We do have some mockingbirds around here who make a decent effort at mocking the Oropendola, but they are missing a distinctive element in their call so it is easy to identify the fake from the real McCoy. Oro’s have a clarion-clear call which is sort of a trill, which the others adequately mock, but then the follow it with something that sounds like paper being crumpled, which the mockingbirds don’t even attempt to replicate. Very curious!

The Clay-colored Robin is the national bird of Costa Rica….and has a nest on the post of the cabina on our property. Every time I approach the building or step outside after a time indoors, Mrs Robin hurries away, startled. She had a nest there last year too, and then went away after baby time.

They are pretty common here, in this country, which makes it nice as the national bird. Many, many people have seen me taking pictures of one and stopped to let me know that this was THEIR national bird – I think it’s pretty sweet.

It’s also a little odd – with over 890 species of birds in this country, they picked such a monochromatic, ubiquitous specie to memorialize. That’s just a curious choice. By the way, if you glossed over that, just think for a moment about the number 890+. Every morning, I wake up to a lot of bird noises; it’s my favorite part of life here!

Pretty much this fellow is the Costa Rican equivalent of a wild turkey. Elusive, sleek and very large as birds go, the Gray-headed Chachalaca perches way, way up high. When he takes off, you almost want to duck because of the whomp-whomp of air from the flapping of his wings! He is a BIG bird, measuring almost 2 feet in length.

I wish I had a better picture of this one – the Blue-Crowned Motmot. One of the most notable features of Motmots is the tail, which is only somewhat discernible here. Their tails have long, thin extensions from their body before terminating in a little burst of tail-feather, much like the fan-leaf on the end of a pole.

A very beautiful bird; another delight to my eyes from this incredible display of sight and sound which is Costa Rica!

A male Green Honeycreeper stopped to breakfast on the fruit at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Below is (I’m pretty sure) a picture of the female of this same species, giving you a chance to compare the two and discern how our Creator cares for His creatures, both large and small.

Almost without exception, the male of any species is bolder in coloration and assumes the role of protector and defender of the family, while the female is much more muted in color and stays with the nest. Just as with the toucans nesting right outside my window, the male will attempt to draw intruders away from the nest by being visible, by feigning injury, or by pretending to be overly absorbed in some fairly accessible piece of fruit. Be not deceived; he is on high alert and is tantalizing this intruder with himself as bait – solely to draw attention away from wife and children.

The White-throated Magpie Jay is like jays everywhere – a bully. Lazy too, and a horrible parent. Maybe I should start at the beginning.

By their nature, jays are like the school-yard bully. They don’t do their homework but threaten smaller kids and take theirs, to turn in to the teacher as their own work. The bluejay lays her eggs in the nests of smaller birds, often pushing the other eggs out in order to make room for her huge egg.

It is pretty common to see both Mr and Mrs smaller bird harassing a blue jay. I’ve also seen multiple species of birds joining together in an effort to drive the jay away, attesting to the fact that they are despised by the whole forest-full of birds.

However, this does not seem to affect the Jay very much, nor my appreciation of them. They are everywhere, sing a variety of beautiful songs and pose readily for my camera. Since they are also a larger bird, they make for some beautiful pictures.

These are by no means the end of birds we’ve seen here, nor even all that we’ve caught with our cameras. But it is the end of a long period of time putting this blog posting together. I’m going to post this and get on to my next couple of articles, including a precious video of our toucan family – perhaps I’ll do another article soon with even more birds. I hope you enjoy them all!

Cataratas Viento Fresco

Only a few months after we arrived, a couple of our friends came down for a visit. During their stay, I took Dawn and Josh up to Monteverde to go ziplining in the rain forest. It was a fun day – the stuff of which fond memories are made!

On the way from Tilaran to Monteverde, I passed a sign for a waterfall, made a mental note to myself, and continued the drive as planned. Another day, while talking with other friends about my desire to see as much of the countryside as I can, the subject of that particular waterfall came up. Immediately, I started planning the trip.

The first thing I do here is to find out what information is available, just like one would do stateside. Much information is available on the internet, but I have also acquired several travel guidebooks – Lonely Planet, New Key Guides, and the Rough Guidebook. Each of these guide books has a different intended audience; I have found the Lonely Planet to be most aligned with my interests in outdoor experiences. The New Key Guide is targeted at people who want to see environmental-friendly farms in operation, or stay in “authentic” bed-and-breakfast situations and shop in “handmade craft” places. The other guidebook is so disappointing I can’t even begin to say why it exists.

Having said all that, however, none of these books includes any mention of the Cataratas Viento Fresco, which is what this set of waterfalls is called. The internet had more information, at http://www.vientofresco.net/welcome.html. On this site I found out about the admission price and a little about the falls themselves – enough to light a fire under my smoldering interest. And so the trip happened!

My son, Erin, went with me the first time. I’ve since gone back with Barb & Rob, plus Samuel, so this is an outing good for a couple of visits at least. The property where these waterfalls are located is not far outside of Tilaran, and it’s all on a somewhat reasonable-condition hardtop road, which makes it a pretty civilized outing.

But enough of all this talk – let’s go see some waterfalls! Drive there in 30 minutes, pay the admission fee and drive again to the parking lot – which is quite a ways inside the property. Once out of the car, you start going down stairs…..and that’s where my eyes started recognizing the magnitude of this project.

When I took this first picture, I was standing near the top; our journey would eventually take us to the bottom of that large waterfall you see in the bottom left corner. The total trail is less than a half-mile top to bottom…..and another half-mile back up. As the second photo illustrates, there are stairs formed out of concrete, all the way down. It truly is a major piece of work!

We went down many stairs….becoming more and more aware that the only way the concrete got down to where it was used, for each step, was on someone’s back. There are no roads nearby, not even a way for a horse to get in here! I’ve carried concrete many times in my past – there has never been a light bag of that stuff!

The first of several waterfalls is called The Serene River. Here they have done construction to form a swimming pool at the bottom of the 102-foot falls, gracefully enhancing what naturally occurs.

My suggestion is to pause here for pictures and to soak up the delicious cool moisture and then continue your hike down and back up, before succumbing to the urge to go swimming. The pool is waist deep, and refreshingly cool – not cold at all! One good thing about being so close to the equator, I guess.

Anyway, it’s always nicer to hike in dry shorts, and the swim will wash off the sweat and trembling legs you might develop as you make the climb back out – it all depends on your overall physical condition. I am glad to say that these stairs didn’t work me out too badly; nice to know the body is working well these days!

Back to the stair-descent for another couple hundred meters, so not very far, you’ll pass a picnic area where I took that first overview photo. There’s also a bathroom and water faucet there; the facilities in this place are well thought-out! Then you’ll quickly arrive at The Hidden Falls – shorter at 66 feet, but with a split in the water flow at the top, to add interest, and two hollowed-out places near the bottom.

This is my favorite of the several falls, even though it is the shortest, because of the intimate feeling this little enclosure provokes. It makes me want to take a book and linger, sitting on a moss-covered rock a little ways downstream – so my pages don’t get wet. But not today. Today, I am tour guide as well as fellow explorer, and more trail awaits.

Another couple hundred meters down more stairs is this 250-foot monster! It is so big that you’ll have difficulty fitting the whole thing into your photo. One thing I’ve especially enjoyed about this waterfall is the constant moving pattern of the water as it cascades downward.

The spray moves back and forth, creating an ever-changing shape of the falls…..and spawning rainbows all over the place, hence its name – Rainbow Falls. I linger here both coming and going, just to watch this interplay….and marvel.

Soon enough, however the stairs beckon and we are on our way once again. Less than 300 meters to go and we come upon The Slide, standing well over 300 feet tall. Even at the “bottom”, you are actually standing at the top of yet another set of falls…..they just haven’t extended the trail that far yet.

I am similarly unable to capture all of the Slide that I would like to, for want of a place to stand. In my mind’s eye, I would move around to my right and catch the falls head-on; at best I can shoot the side of the falls and only fit about a third of the falls into my photo. I took this particular photo back up near the Rainbow Falls, so I’m standing 300 meters away and it fills the whole picture frame!

The longer we’ve walked down the stairs, the more impressed I am with the whole setup here. My admission fee has been well-applied, for the stairs/trail is excellent and there are bathrooms, dressing rooms and even a shower building, as well as several picnic areas. In short, I am plum-tickled with this day!

Now to climb back up the stairs. I think a swim will feel terrific in about 15 minutes……

Here we go loopty-loo!

This is part two of my outing with Bruja and Ashton – the unexpected part. I had responded to Bruja’s invitation to go see the waterfall where his friends live, and indeed we had seen a very picturesque waterfall of satisfying size. But when we left the farm I expected that we would turn right and head home. When he directed me to turn left, I knew the adventure was just beginning.

Maybe my car wasn’t making enough creaking and groaning noises to satisfy my mechanic; a few more mountain roads would surely produce another set of work for him to do! Maybe….well, who knows? It was a day to hang onto your seats, enjoy the drive and see what we would see! Costa Rica is like that, every day – you never know what is going to end up coming your way, so you might as well step out of bed with a smile and go find it first!

Not far up the road, we turned onto a side road (read “dirt path”) and followed it down until it opened into a charming meadow, ringed by 3 houses. Here, Bruja explained, were where his friends had their house and where their parents lived. The place we had just been is the place they stay when they are working, which is most of the time, but it’s not theirs. So this is their investment; their personal estate, as it were.

My first thought, as I looked around the meadow was “I could live here.” There’s no way to do justice to that setting with a photo, so I didn’t even try. But I’ll try now, with words, to describe what I saw.

The road we had just followed entered in via a cleft, so the vista really opened to our sight at the last minute – I had no warning until we rounded the last curve. I caught my breath, and do so again now, just at the memory! A house to the right; another to my left as I pull in. I turn left to follow the edge of the large clearing and head toward the third house. A man and woman are in their front yard, touching up the orchids they’ve collected and put there. With greetings between Bruja and these people obviously familiar to him, and shy nods from us strangers, we check out their garden and head over to a barn nearby.

Standing in the barn, looking out over the rest of the meadow, I can see the center has a couple of horses grazing and is otherwise just open space. The other side of the meadow is fringed by a creek,with fields of sugar cane on the other side. That’s the cash crop for these families, and the reason for the equipment in the barn behind me.

At that point, I turn around to investigate this contraption more thoroughly. It takes me some time, and some explanation on Bruja’s part, but I come to see that there is a place to yoke oxen in, so that they can walk in a circle and operate the machinery in the middle.

The ox yoke is hanging just over the motorbike, which makes it a little hard to see in this photo. You can click on the photo to enlarge it if you want to see greater detail.

The words cast into this equipment were disconcerting to see in the middle of Costa Rican nowhere – “made in Ohio, USA”. It’s a very heavy piece of equipment, the purpose being to grind the sugar cane and squeeze the juice out of it. As the oxen walk in their circle, someone feeds the cane stalks into the machine and the drippings go down through the middle of this machine into a pipe.

The drippings then flow through the pipe for about a dozen feet and into the 100-gallon cauldron pictured below. A fire burns beneath, for many hours, while someone stirs the juice – much like making maple syrup. After it has thickened sufficiently, they ladle the juice out and put it into forms to cool, and harden.

Bruja took the opportunity to ham it up for my camera with the biggest mortar and pestle I’d ever seen, this one being used to break the grains of rice free from their husks. These two agricultural processes operate entirely without electricity, as does this whole meadow – the net result is a “green” environment in complete equanimity.

(I wanted to make sure I got that word spelled right, and that I used it correctly, so I googled it. I did use it correctly, but what a definition I found! Just read this and tell me if it makes any sense to you: Equanimity is the unattached awareness of one’s experience as a result of perceiving the impermanence of momentary reality. It is a peace of mind and abiding calmness that cannot be shaken by any grade of either fortunate or unfortunate circumstance.)

Anyway, with this sense of an impermanent, momentary reality…..and more calm than good sense, we piled back into the car for the rest of our ride home….but again we turned away from the homeward direction. We ended up going in a HUGE circle for the rest of this afternoon, following the road picturred below. It trailed along the mountaintops, literally, until we arrived back in the town of Tilaran, where we dropped off Bruja at his mechanic shop. Ashton and I just drove home slowly, shaking our heads at all that this outing had brought to our senses.

My mechanic takes me for a drive in the country

Long-time readers of this blog know that my car was old when I bought it. As a result, and because I’d rather have it working right than tolerate various things not working, I’ve visited mechanics more than a few times while I’ve been here. Along the way, two have stood out from the crowd. I spoke about Rachin way back when, who did a bunch of electrical work (power windows, power door locks, etc); let me today introduce you to Geovanni.

To my ears, it is strange to hear an obviously-Italian word in the midst of a Spanish sentence, so I’ve come to know him by his nickname – Bruja. If, like me, you know the meaning of that word, a question pops into your mind: “Huh? What? Why?”

OK – that’s three questions. The term bruja means female witch. I asked him how he came to have such a nickname; his answer was amusing. Before I pass that along, however, let me tell you the name of Samuel’s oldest son. Samuel, you may remember, is my neighbor and now hiking buddy. His eldest son’s name is Flounder, so named (an unusual word in a Spanish sentence also) because the movie Little Mermaid was out at the time he was born and Samuel’s wife liked the sound of the word. His youngest daughter, by the way, has a fish named…….it is unprintable for one with such good breeding as I wish to exhibit. Again, I think the sound of the word drove the choice of names, rather than any comprehension of the meaning or intent in the choice of names.

Back to my account of Bruja’s name: Geovanni said that, many years ago, there were 2 characters in his favorite TV show. He called his best friend the name of one character, because there was something that reminded him of that character, or vice versa. And so his friend called him the name of the other character…..and it has stuck for all these years.

It’s kind of like my son Erin’s nickname, as applied by one of the Gringo young girls. He’s fairly skinny, so she called him Flaco, which means skinny. Now the locals in that social circle know him as Flaco; they don’t even know his real name. Something about nicknames here; there’s a bit of a national obsession about having and using them. While I’m on the subject, Rachin isn’t his real name either – it’s another nickname. I’ve heard his real name a couple of times; his wife uses it, but everybody else knows him as Rachin….and to me that’s who he is.

OK – now on to today’s adventure in paradise….

I strive to go beyond the superficial when in a relationship, so it is really no surprise that, with my car mechanics, I’ve done a few things having very little to do with cars. With Bruja I’ve stood around and talked about my explorations of the countryside….most often while he’s once-again fixing my front end. I think I’m on my third set of tie rod ends, bushings and etc – all in less than a year, because I travel on some really bad roads.

So Bruja tells me about a farm that some friends of his work on, and how there’s this great waterfall he’d like to take me to. My ears perk up; my heart starts pounding with excitement, and we set a date for the following Sunday – when he’s not working at his mechanic business.

I snag another of my hiking buddies, introduced to you in a recent post – Ashton, and we show up to go on an explore with Bruja. I drive, because I figure I’ll get a chance to pay Bruja back for being our Tour Guide with yet more mechanic work soon enough. Sure enough, we leave town on a hard-top road, which becomes a dirt road for a number of kilometers…..and then we turn off.

At this point, his friends meet us – one in a 4-wheel drive vehicle and the other on a dirt bike; I am to follow. Bruja jumps into their vehicle because he’s going to operate the gates, he says. I presume I’ll figure it out as we go along.

The “road” we follow continues over mountain top and through stream for more than 20 minutes, as we transit through 6 gates. We are essentially driving through a series of cow pastures, complete with rocks in the field….and under car. Occasionally I make it out of first gear; eventually we go through the last gate and they get out of the car. Says I to myself – that’s a good sign! We must be here. This picture shows you Ashton with the two guys who work this farm – friends of Bruja. I confess my senses were overloaded with the day’s adventures; I don’t remember their names. I shall conform to the Costa Rican habit of using nicknames and christen them “the guys”.

We stand around for just a couple of minutes, smiling and shaking hands, while I glance around. There’s a comfortable house, an outhouse, a shed for livestock, an outdoor well and a sprinkler going like crazy. Within minutes we are tromping off through the brush down to the creek where a decent volume of sparklingly-clear water is flowing; it is at this point we pick up the trail and tear off down the valley. Shortly, we are joined by a couple of plastic pipes which run alongside the river.

We come to the contraption shown in this picture, where we get the first chance to stop and chat. It seems that those pipes we’ve been following are a new installation – a project the guys have been working on. This contraption is a power generation device, where the water coming from the pipe, upstream, will fall onto the paddles and cause the wheel to turn, which will turn the car generator and produce electricity (direct current, for the technicians in the house). Why, I ask?

They, and the 3 daughters of one of the guys, have been living on this farm and in that house, for 12 years without electricity. They are going to change that, they say. I nod with compassion and understanding. We resume our hike with a slight change in my state of comprehension. I have lived without electricity for 8 months, one time. I know it is possible, but I also know you have to learn to do things differently than most folks. Twelve years…..young children….my thoughts swirl while my feet strive to keep to the path.

We get a running commentary while we hike, of this medicinal plant and that edible berry, while my camera is busy clicking away – and still we are walking. Have you heard of noni, shown here? I have a Mayan Indian friend, in Mexico, who has bad diabetes, which he keeps in check solely with the aid of noni. I’ve heard many good things about this fruit, and am aware that noni juice is sold in the states.

All in all, the hike hasn’t covered even a kilometer, and yet we are lifetimes away from any world familiar to me. One more bend, a small scramble down a hillside….and beauty stands proud before us! No, not Ashton – he’s just as happy to see this sight as I am.

I have to remember this is private property and that the guys get to have this all to themselves – which sparks more than a little envy. The feeling is quickly replaced by gratitude that they are willing to share it with us strangers. It is beautiful!

I especially like the faceted black stone face, over which the water pours in abundance. If I had a set of blocks, perhaps I could build something which beckoned memories of this, but I could never approach the simple beauty and elegance of form which has been placed before us this day!

One of the guys shares his vision – he’s going to tie a big rope up at the top, so that you will be able to hand-over-hand down the falls, hopping from rock to rock while playing around in the mist from the falls. It’s called “canyoning”, which is really rappelling down waterfalls. Here it would be just lots of fun, since there are so many great places to put your feet!

Neither Ashton nor I had any idea what we would be encountering, so neither of us came prepared to go swimming – what a pity! But we have an open invitation to come back, so that sounds like a plan. Having seen the waterfall, and gone “Ooh” and “Aah” several times apiece, we retraced our steps back to the house where we’d parked our cars. This time I looked at the house with more-informed eyes, now being aware that all life here was without electricity. It still looked like a pretty normal place – even comfortable! And the setting here, among the hills and streams, is to die for!

As I continued my visual scan, I saw this tree. It’s unusual because the fruit doesn’t grow on the branches, but on the trunk. When I asked about it, Bruja told me it was a kind of pepper. I think either he….or the tree, is confused. Either way, it looks pretty weird, doesn’t it?

This brought me back to that sprinkler I mentioned before. It was one of those oscilating sprinklers, which makes a full circle in spurts. When I try to use that kind of sprinkler at my Waxhaw house, I quickly find out that I don’t have enough water pressure to make it run correctly. But this one, sitting out in this paradise with no electricity and therefore no pump for the well – well, it was running at high performance! How could this be?

You know me – I asked. The simple answer is that there is so much pressure from the spring into which is piped the water they use at the farmhouse, that it easily drives the sprinkler just like we saw it that day. It would run all day and night, forever, solely based on the natural downhill flow of water. Very cool.

It is amazing how much we’ve forgotten about how things are supposed to work.

Having said our goodbyes to the guys, we climbed back in my car….but we turned to head even farther from home. Bruja didn’t say much; he just kept giving directions. Obviously, our excursion wasn’t over yet.

In fact, there was so much more to occur this day that I’ll have to finish the stories in another blog entry. I hope you’re having as much fun reading about these, as I am going to all these places, meeting people and seeing unusual things!