Dick – December 8, 1999

First an explanation about this Journal and the other postings I will be doing on the website. This is being posted a month after it was first written, and I have reached the conclusion that rather than attempting to achieve literary perfection (or at least a level of clarity which makes this easily readable) I am opting for actually posting my notes with minimal editing. I apologize for the staccato and sometimes disjointed nature of what follows, but these are “real time” impressions and notes. I call this “All the news – uncut, uncensored, unedited and unorganized”

December 2, 1999 – Puerto Jimenez and Carate, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

We met Dara, a 24-year-old American recent University of Michigan at Ann Arbor grad who is teaching English at a rural school in the area. There are a total of 46 children from Grades 1-6 in the one room school with 2 teachers. She tells us that there is no library or reading material for the children, and that when the class saw a world globe they were disappointed that Costa Rica was so small. The biggest challenge the teachers face is that the children do not view activities like reading as something recreational or pleasurable, but work to be done; Dara tells us that when they see her reading a book they ask her what she is studying. Dara further explains a problem she had with a 9 year old first grade girl we met, who like many of the children is held back several times, but faced an additional problem. Her mother, a local prostitute, is illiterate and has pulled her daughter out of school several times. (Education is ‘compulsory’, but apparently enforcement is lax.)

We visited the main elementary school in Puerto Jimenez, Escuela Central, with individual classrooms of 25-28 for each grade. There are 2 sessions to make more efficient use of the classrooms – 7:30AM – 12:00PM and 12:30PM to 5:00PM. There is even a classroom for children with special needs. Katie points out that at the school they don’t have art, gym, music or a library, like ours. Their playground, however, has leafcutter ants running across it.

Children’s reflections – Ben asks why some of the houses are made out of “strange stuff” (scraps of wood, metal, etc.). We carefully explain that it is because the people do not have money so they use what is available, but they are still proud and keep their homes very neat. (The homes and small gardens are generally well kept, and the school children are immaculately clean in their starched blue uniforms) Katie is clearly getting into the local “scene” – she is talking about repainting the maple tree in her room at home, replacing the bunny, raccoon, squirrel, turtle with and coati, iguana, and parrot and a termite nest in a mangrove or palm tree.

Tops of trees red with scarlet macaws, which burst forth with 2′ wingspans, toucans, white-faced capuchin monkeys, Alex reporting seeing a jaguar running behind our bedroom window. Iridescent neon blue birds, 2′ long iguanas, storks, egrets, cranes, hummingbirds and cows.

At Lookout Inn on the remote Osa Peninsula we are pretty much incommunicado – they have marine band radio communication for emergencies, but no telephone or cell phones for logistical arrangements general communication or e-mail. (We had decided against Iridium and satellite phones for weight and cost.) The logistical issues have to be handled by our hosts with a weekly 2-hour drive over the “Suicide Safari” road into Puerto Jimenez to access phones and e-mails. They are working with Motorola to get cellular reception by attaching a new type of Yaggi antenna to a cell phone and then, with only a 35-minute hike with cell phone and notebook computer in hand, through the rainforest to a ridge where they can set up a remote “office” (a wooden table and chair) on a nearby mountaintop. A bit more cumbersome than multiline speakerphones on your desk, but incredibly more scenic than gray fabric cube walls (if only the scarlet macaws and spider monkeys don’t get too distracting).

Elias the caretaker catches 2 fish in the surf, a 24-pound “robalo” (snook) and Jack Crevahlly. He uses no rod, merely a coil/reel of fishing line with a lure and hook, which he throws like a lariat out into the ocean. One cannot doubt the efficacy of the Tico method, but Elias does have gashes on his hand from pulling in the line against fighting fish. Thee fish are actually visible in the translucent blue waters of the cresting waves

The 26 mile drive out to Lookout Inn from Puerto Jimenez, dubbed the Simon Suicide Safari across 2-3 foot deep raging rivers and barely navigable with our large taxi truck. Just out of Puerto Jimenez we pass small red tin roofed houses built on stilts to combat the frequent flooding from the rainstorms and then we pass Lapas Rios (Parrot River), A Rainforest Eco-Lodge

The rainy season included 20 feet of rain, during which roads were completely washed out, a 15-acre patch of privately owned land fell off a cliff into the ocean. In November alone, 88.8″ of rain fell, including 10.6″ in one day. The road had actually been closed for a week, and Ticos on their donkeys would set out at 6AM to meet the collectivo (local taxi) from Puerto Jimenez at the totally impassable stream, load up on rice, beans, salt and sugar, and return home in the driving rains by nightfall.

As I take and early morning jog, a donkey pulled cart with Corocovado Lodge carved into its side is my only companion on the beach.

Corcovado Tent Camp, owned by Michael Kaye’s Costa Rican Expeditions, brilliant eco-marketing, a beautiful setting, with a very marginal institutional feeling product with twin bedded foam mattresses set on wooden tables which are slightly smaller than the mattresses, no fans or electricity, 20 feet apart. A few are nicely sited on the hillside, but most are closely packed in 2 rows along the beach. All have communal bath and showers, no fans (no electricity) and a communal dining pavilion. It is in a beautiful setting, and far better than nothing, but with the alternative of Lookout Inn available at virtually the same price, there is no reason for anyone to stay in the tent camp – it is not a “more natural” experience with dense packing of the tents- at Lookout Inn we have open screen windows, listen to animals and insects all night anyway, with extremely personalized service, gourmet meals, great information (both Tico and American), fully stocked library – books about Costa Rica flora, fauna, other tourism, alternative health and relaxing beach-reading novels.

Fully solar powered house, which generates 2-amp/hour even in heavy rains with a Trace inverter for 120-volt power. It was cut out of the jungle only 3 years ago, and now has 30′ banana trees, pineapples,

Terry, ex-Rainsoft Distributor w/ 23 employees left with concerns about lawsuits (from customers, employees), and in disgust with OJ Simpson trials, Clinton’s escapades and the media and public’s obsession with them, and finally with the famous McDonald’s $700,000 hot coffee burn verdict

Wendy went to Anchorage at 18 years old during the pipeline construction boom and spent 25 years there, then Santa Fe, and now Costa Rica, a continuation of the adventurous spirit, albeit in a very different climate.

They came to Costa Rica for a 6 week backpacking trip (which plan rapidly changed realizing that backpacking in tropical humidity and heat is neither for the faint of heart of the sane, found this location, purchased the lease on the land from the government from the former owner (the lease payment is only $100.year – all of the value is in the lessee’s position and the leasehold pricing trades like fee interest.)

The local children horseback ride to school

On the beach we find turtle tracks, turtle egg nest remain (ravaged by local dogs and Ticos) and watch monkeys peering from the trees above.

Amazingly again, and despite my concerns and worries, we are not assaulted by insects, although there are active no-see-ums at dusk and dawn, and everyone is worried about turning on lights and attracting them.

We are reminded that we are definitely in the rainforest jungle as Terry tells us of last seeing his rooster as a football sized lump swelling the stomach of a boa constrictor hanging from the rafters of his chicken coop.

Morning jogs remind me of moving to Houston 20 yrs ago-the scenery much is more spectacular, the flora and fauna fascinating, the heat more oppressive, and the body less youthfully resilient. Every small slithering sound in the grass surrounding the path I am running on has me wondering if that is one of the 17 species of venomous snakes in Costa Rica – we’re not in Kansas anymore.

One of the most amazing things about traveling is the incredible experiences you have in compressed timeframes – December is ecotourism and environment, next month Latin American Culture and history, then comparative religions (Hinduism v. Buddhism) and natural scenery, etc.

Several friends write to us, assuming we would rather be safe than sorry, about the US State Department Dept. Warning of Holiday Terrorism “The State Department announced today that it had received ”credible information” about plans for terrorist attacks against American citizens from now until the beginning of next year. The department released what it called a ”worldwide terrorism…” Apparently the threats are mostly focused on Rome and Israel -we actually have not seen much in the way of world news. Hopefully most of the places we are going are obscure enough that terrorists would be concerned they would not get the media attention they presumably are seeking, and in any case we are avoiding the really Hot Spots. (We were going to transit through Seattle to go to Bangkok, but now will be in the much safer LAX).

Dec 28th 1999 – I am using this trip a research expedition into the 8 degrees of separation theory. Yesterday at Tikal I met someone who lives in the house in West Hartford that my best friend from college grew up in – so who know what the true degree of separation really is!!

Dec 30th 1999 – Guatemalan Quetzales lost 5% of their value this week when a new right wing president was elected!! (Actually, he was a former communist leader, has admitted to killing 2 people while in exile in Mexico, and is probably most kindly described as an “opportunist”)

Jan 2nd, 2000 – We are having a FANTASTIC TIME – Christmas was in Chichicastenango, Guatemala and the Millennium a 15 course Chinese banquet (by “a Jewish guy from Philadelphia”) at Lake Atitlan (accurately dubbed by Aldous Huxley “the most beautiful lake in the world”).

We all miss our friends and family, but other than that this trip could continue for a REALLY LONG TIME and I would be perfectly happy. One of my favorite things about traveling is the constant stimulation – one day it is nature and environment, the next Mayan culture in the ruins in Tikal, and then a day with Guatemalan businessmen to learn their perspective on the current economic and political situation here, and then a day in the market -seeing beautiful arts and crafts and having a great time bargaining. Plus the family time is usually fantastic (I have less patience with misbehavior from the kids than Patty, but they have generally been great – and are wonderful travelers who seem to be getting a tremendous amount out of all of this traveling, in addition to having a great time)

On the logistics of “Staying Connected” – the following is a copy of a recent e-mail to FEDEX “I am currently in Costa Rica, will be leaving shortly for Guatemala and then throughout Asia and Africa for 9 months. I want to send magnetic dictation tapes, exposed film and computer disks (along with a range of other documents, packages, etc) via FedEx back to my office in the United States. I am concerned that magnetic or x-ray security devices you may use might damage some of the material I am sending, which is IRREPLACEABLE. Please comment on the above, do you offer a premium service where goods are only hand inspected, will lead shielding help (it will against x-rays for the film, I do not know about the magnetic exposure problem for the disks and tapes. Thank you very much for your prompt response, as I would like to send the first package as soon as possible.” I had heard horror stories of packages which are sent internationally being magnetically screened for security and tape recorder tapes and floppy disks and digital film accidentally erased or damaged. WHAT TO DO TO AVOID THIS PROBLEM. (I also wrote Airborne Express and DHL to find out if they have a service which guarantees that we will not have a problem) The solution turned out to be simple – just indicate on the International Airway Bill “Do Not Scan” and put appropriate warning labels on the packages.

I write to Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com “Is there any way to order from you by e-mail. We are traveling internationally for 9 months, want to order books, have access to e-mail but web access is frequently difficult in several of the developing countries we are visiting. We are frequent customers of yours, and have one click ordering enabled. I would be perfectly happy to order “blind” without confirming pricing.” (Only Amazon responds-but they can’t do it.)