Archive for November, 2009

Yesterday, i felt something gushing up inside, something that wanted to come out and explode, the nattering in my head coming to fruit, something hidden beneath the exterior that gushed with life. I wondered how much of it was the place – this land where the earth often trembles beneath, shaking at the core and shaking that which lies above – knocking down what has been built up, cracking both foundations and walls. And it is also a land of volcanos that stand tall in the sky, the peaks far above the villages and cities below. While many lay dormant, others are awake, some calm with small emissions of smoke and gas, and one with lava flowing down. But they are not dead, and can explode at any time – explode in order to release the pressure that lay within, the pressure that has built up over time, and that which stirs inside. The pressure that is invisible to those that look on from the outside.

And i wonder, if that is what i sense in this place – something deeper, hidden beneath the surface of outward smiles that turn upside down when eyes are not upon them. A sadness or discontent that lay beneath the beautiful facade of luscious green mountains, flowing streams, and flowers. Is that what i feel?

I awake in the morning, and the pressure that has been building inside, begins to flow outwards and release itself – The monthly flow that will relieve the edgyness inside. And is it that edgyness that i project outwards and draw into myself, and create a world around that looks like that? I read my daily horoscope and it warns of this feeling, not for only me, but for those born under my sign, so i know i am not alone. And i hear the grumblings from others too.

I see it in the girls who left their homestays and came to the hostel. The depression that lurked under the smiles of the mothers and the families chased them away. I see it in the teacher who checks the time all too often and would rather be somewhere else. It is in the woman who works at the hostel and never smiles and gives off the feeling that you are in her way and it is in the hostel kitchen – in the cracked plates and bowls.  i understood when the dutch girls complained about the uncomfortable beds and the musty smell in the room, for i had been feeling that but did not want to admit it, and the grumbling of many continues and continues. And all grumble about the rain and lack of sun, and then the heat when it comes searing down, and the way it disappears at night and it becomes too cold.

 Do i pick up on those rumblings and grumblings and further them? I believe i do. I get caught in the matrix and get sucked in. I am not strong enough to change its direction for i see the reasons why others grumble. It is contagious and it spreads, and when i see it i amplify it for i am stronger than i know. And that is not good.

But one cannot deny what is there. On cannot pretend that the plates are not cracked or that the mattress is thin. One cannot see a smile when one is not there. But can i ignore it all – pretend that it is just not there? Or maybe the key is to acknowledge what lay below, the underside of it all, but still to look to the mountains and the streams. To live with the fact that there is something more, and that all may come crashing down and that all is not as stable or beautiful as it appears on the surface. Still one must continue to build…to build as the towns and cities of this country and of this thin strip of active land that is but narrow protrusion between that waters have been rebuilt many times. And will be rebuilt again. And it is also to remember that it is because of the grey skies that hang above, and the rain that pours or trickles down, that there is so much green and that the land is so lush. This beauty would not exist without the rain, and it is the rain that makes us grow, the volcanic ash that provides a fertile soil, and the shaking of the land that reminds us that the time is now, and that we can rebuild. Still, i feel that something may give way.

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I have been in Orosi for a few days now, and the place seems different. It is not only that the temperature has periodically soared, that a few patches of blue sky have appeared, or that the rain has stopped (sometimes), but that my relation to the place has changed. Some of it has become familiar.

I know the main street. I have a favorite store where i buy my fruits for my breakfast and veggies for dinner on a daily basis. The woman is starting to know me. They are helpful. she shows me the proper was to rip a banana and a plantain from their stems, and advises me on which are which of the many varieties that hung from the ceiling and told me which plantains are best for frying. She helped my take down the pineapple last night and let me know which of the greenish oranges are sweet for juice and which are sour for salads. And i know they charge a fair price for these and the papayas, potatoes, carrots, beets and the other veggies whose names i do not know.

I think i have a favorite soda – the mom and pop restaurants where food is cheap. I like the one beside the grocery store, a simple place, mainly a mans place but i see some women there, a lunch counter and two picnic tables – more outside than in. The Costa Rican version of a simple diner. I get a casado – meat or chicken or fish, rice, beans, a cabbage salad and another side – often spaghetti, and a drink – a aqua de fruta – for lunch if i eat out. I return again and again to the same bakery for the excellent pastries (my weakness) but i keep telling myself i should walk down the street to another to see if the bread – a white baguette – is any better.

I was going to this morning, but some people from the school were on the other side of the street waiting for the bus. I join them, and ride up the mountain to a park – el mirador – that provides a wonderful view of the valley below – of Orosi, of the lake, of the other town of Cachi. It has picnic tables on a grassy lawn with trees. They had lunch, and i tried a new fruit, one with a gummy centre that you slurp seeds and all. I will go back there. I have ventured out of the town centre a few times – a walk down the road in the other direction by myself the other day, near to the river, and by a high school, and then yesterday, with Sonya,  up the hills for another view.  A hot morning, we walk up and up and up, an unpaved road with houses by a ¨lake – a pond really¨, cross a low stream on a precarious footbridge – cars drive through the shallow water, and up to a farm or a holiday center, where you can fish for trout. My world expands beyond the village. Rain holds off until afternoon.

And my world expands beyond myself, have met others, interact, am social a bit. Find time to write but not enough, and time to study. I make patterns within in order to venture without – and the more i venture without, the more the patterns within become transformed, as the unfamiliar becomes familiar.

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The town or village of Orosi seems worlds away from San Jose or the cities that surround its perimeter, although it is less than 40 miles from the city itself. It is another world altogether

The mountains that surround the valley, and the clouds that linger above act like a container holding the energy in. It is a place where both people and the town dogs stroll down the middle of the streets, stopping and greeting along the way. it is a place where nothing much seems to be in any sense of a hurry. It is worlds away from the city and i feel different here. On Sunday after a first communion or confirmation at the old church girls in fancy white dresses and boys in their new suits walked through town on their way home with their families.

I fall asleep listening to the crickets or something that sounds like them, rain a bit on the tin roof, the occasional barking of dogs, and wake up to the birds, the rooster who does not know when to stop, church bells on a sunday morn, a dog barking, a voice outside, eventually a car and then happy sounds as the pools at the springs next door come to life with children playing.

The sky is grey, a bit of blue this morning which raised the mood. The damp air turns to mist to drizzle to rain and back again, moisture is contained in all. Water flows through the drainage gullies beside the roads , and puddles abound on those roads that are unpaved. All is green and lush, and the sky is grey. The tops of mountains that surround come in and out of view, shrouded by the clouds. I am told that the tallest volcano in the country is near, and for the moment, i will just have to believe it. The rainy season is coming to an end, and the air hangs heavy. The rain permeates all, a dampness to all i touch and to the air i breathe.

The valley acts like a container, holding the energy in. From the centre of town you can not see out, beyond the lush mountains that surround. The sky on Sunday was heavy, holding all in with a solid mass of grey above. And in the rain, i become sluggish myself, not venturing beyond the core of the town or often the hostel where i stay. I feel like i am in a fishbowl of green, being observed by all around – an outsider, a solo gringo woman, some say hi and others look away.

I know it is not as isolated and contained as it appears. There is movement here, but it is calm and seems at peace. I am here, outsiders come and go, to visit, to`study spanish, but i do not believe overwhelm the place (and i sense mixed feelings about our presence). The green bus goes through town throughout the day, taking people in and out the town to Cartago, a city and the world beyond. Yet, the cities seem a world away.

I write this on my first full day here, and i feel contained and slow.

(I will upload photos eventually – but this is a small town with old computers and slow connections)

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I write this from Orosi, a small Costa Rican town in narrow valley of shapely green mountains beneath textured grey sky. A town where i will write about in the following week, as this is where i will remain for a week. Will have time to get to know it and to be embraced in its feel.

It is a small walkable town of  about 5000 people so i read. It has a main street, a language school which is why i am here, a few stores, restos, warm bathing pools, a historic church, and more i am sure. It also has a calmer way of life which i notice as i stroll up and down the main street, and down the middle of some side streets, with few cars and still unpaved. The air is rich and it is green.

And how far away this morning seems (never mind yesterday afternoon or last week). This morning i awoke in Alajuela, sun shining bright, listening to another snore. went out in the early morn as town was waking up, most shops still closed, stands setting up, a few milling about, trucks unloading  and it was hot. I went out later, to shop a bit, the market getting busy on a Saturday and traffic picking up. I looked for a shop i had spotted the other day, but they fell into a blur. which one of the many that look all the same was it. I left the hostel, walked a last time on now familiar streets got onto the bus to San Jose. I left the now familiar behind.

The bus, on the autopista, i enter another zone. Going into San Jose, a traffic jam, another, though this time i had a vague idea of where i was. Off the bus, a busy pedestrian mall full of people and stores, bigger shops and a few more international chains that in Alajuela. The main square by the museum, it seems alive, i think i might like to stay for a few days next time i pass through. down another street i walk, away from the center and onto another bus. Zone transition time. Bus goes out of town in other direction, through traffic, and then out to autopista, past some shanties on the way.

Into Cartago, coming in it looks provincial as guidebooks say. Fields, then homes, then center, pass through quickly, another zone. Off the bus, near las Ruinas, the square, a panderia, a line of buses, the ruins to check out, the centre of this town, try to cross the avenue with others and traffic does not stop. no one know where my next bus is. i eat and smoke, and walk a few blocks. Another zone, one which i will visit more when i pass through again.

Find the bus, pull out on secondary road, through Paraiso, past a mall and a university, down semi-rural roads, all new. Then we descend – from the top look at town on valley floor, a river, a magical walls of green as we twist on down, shade grown coffee, green beneath a canopy of green, another zone, and into down, main road, a church, square, soccer field, the store where i am to get off, another zone – one i will explore.

Into the hostel where i will stay – that a zone in itself.

As i pass through many places, most new to me, some barely familiar,  time shifts differently that if i had stood still. It becomes a bit of a blur for i have passed through much in such little time – a blur. And in that time i have also passed through many versions of me – concerns of this morning now disappeared, intense sensations forgotten. In motion time and space blur and all seems more rapid.

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Umbrella plants - volcan poas 2I saw green today, a slower pace of being, and a reminder of places i once called home, and i feel calm. What a short journey and a visit to nature can do for the soul.

I had expected a deeper experience today, as i went up to Volcan Poas, and thought i might get a dramatic sense of the earth being alive – its fires and powers within. But i did not – i got cold and wet instead. But still, it was marvelous. Today it was the journey itself that counted. The bus ride that calmed instead of jarred.

This morning i decided that i just had to get out-of-town – to visit one of the places on the map. I work up feeling stressed and a nervous wreck after the journeys of the past few days, and lay in bed at 6am listening to the traffic as the city work up. So i decided to visit Volcan Poas, the closest volcano to here in Alajuela and to San Jose. You can sometimes see it in the distance, it is not far – 30 or so km – but it is usually covered in clouds, as it was this morning. But i decided to go anyways – may never be back, so at least i went. And though the distance was short, it took an hour and a half to get there, and by the time we arrived i felt worlds away.

The trip up was wonderful as the bus drove out of town. We frist passed the “suburbs” where trees appeared on the streets and beside the concrete bungalows with the ubiquitous tin roofs and beside the few larger places too. Then we began to climb, and climb we did, up a twisty narrow two-land road to the top. We passed coffee fields of lush green, the low bushes in rows up and down the hills, a few other plants as well, running streams, a mini waterfall, the land was lush and green. Passed through villages, homes lined up along the road, people walking, ads for plantation tours and some sodas and restos and cabanas. The air smelt clean. As we climbed the road got wet, mist appeared and intensified turning at first to drizzle and then to rain. A break along the way. The coffee bushes seems to disappear replaced by what i thought was grey earth but which i later discovered were crop covers. a few souvenir stalls, more twisting and turning and then just vegetation and we had arrived – Volcan Poas.

Fees collected – $10 USD for foreigners and to the parking lot, and then to the visitor centre to use the banyo. It was chilly and i should have brough another jacket and my rain pants – it felt like coastal BC or the Pacific Northwest, the greenery was different, but the air felt similar. Walk down paved path to the crater, others returning are wearing those disposable plastic rain ponchos – i walk on ahead of rest of the bus. I make it there – only cloud to be seen – zero visibility to out where the crater it – have to have faith that it was there. been here less that 30 minutes, have 3 hours – a paved hiking trail up to a ¨lake¨a cool crater, through green, empty and quiet, a few people but the silence spoke, through tunnel of trees, branches twist over and you cannot see the grey sky, it is dark and i am alone, but i keep on and then hear voices up ahead. A look over another field of cloud, and back to the trail, of green, of wet green. At the end, back to the crater, has the cloud thinned, will i ba able to see something, anything, but i cannot. stood under photography platform, underneath the beams and talked to a guy from the bus, and then to the visitor center for a coffee. Hang out chilled – see the sign walking in rain ponchos.

Did i miss out – not have the experience shown on the tourist brochures, missed the real thing. No i did not – for i experienced the place in its typical state – clouded in and wet – a mist or a rain keeps the area green. And in my enjoyment of the ride, the blessed green of the coffee fields, the energy came into play for it is the rich soil from the volcanic ash that let to the growth of agriculture in the area.

The green calmed me, and i came back into town in peace.

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Do you ever have that sneaky feeling that you have gotten on the wrong bus? Well i did today, and i was right, so spent the day circling around, riding the bus through zones i had not planned. I had wanted to go to Heredia but got on a bus to San Jose instead. And the roads i took, the journey itself, effected how i felt about my destination. The journey itself is part of the trip, and the how, and the what you pass through on the way there, can help determine how you interpret the place when you arrive.

I had spotted the bus stand yesterday with a big “Heredia” sign hanging above and had seen many buses with that destination flow through town. I knew where the stop and station was, just around the corner and down the block from the market, i was sure. But this morning i took the long way there, down the street where it was, i thought, down another block and it was not there – i knew it had not disappeared over night. Cut through one bus staging area that i knew was not it, up the block to a corner that looked familiar, and over through another place where people gathered for the red Tusa buses and finally to the end where a line of people waited to board the bus. Next to the  the sign that said “Heredia”.

One bus pulled out full just after i arrived, and a few minutes later another one pulled up – a san jose-alejuala sign on the front so i asked. Asked the man who was talking to or at me, not sure of the words he spoke but understanding his message, but when i asked Heredia he said yes. Asked the guy who counted the people. Did not ask the driver who collected my fare. I should have asked again – but the “autopista” sign was over on the next lane so this had to be right.

It was as we pulled out of town that feeling that i was on the wrong bus grew stronger. Though i did not know the route or the territory for i was going somewhere that i had never been, it grew as we headed out onto the autopista. There is a sign somewhere for Heredia, but i know it will go all the way to San Jose as it passes large hotels and more. The man who had given up talking at me got off the bus and then we turned in the direction of centro. I was not really focusing as the roads got crazier, more built up, and the traffic heavier. This was not where i wanted to be. the calmness i felt this morning was stripped away. We are caught in traffic, crawling slowly among cars, trucks, and so many different coloured buses, belonging to different lines, going different places. I notice the stench of diesel in the air. We turn the corner and arrive at a small terminal – a church is near and i debate whether to stay and explore this town. But no – i want something a bit calmer, and i don´t see the pedestrian street that someone had told me was by the terminal.

I walk over and ask the driver, the sign on the bus says ¨Heredia¨but i want to be sure. Yes, he say, it is. We wait a few moments, and then pull out, crossing over the pedestrian street a block away, then past run down buildings, the rows of used car lots and into more traffic. We are stuck in traffic. And as my impatience grows, and my bladder starts to scream, i realize that a traffic jam is a traffic jam, a definition of place in and of itself, and when you are in one it really doesn´t matter where you are. Finally the traffic calms, some trees appear, and we get to the short zone between the two, but once again it builds up.

We approach the university, and i take out my map and am realize that coming from san josé i am not sure where the stop is or which of the terminals on the map i will pull into. We get closer to the center, and i see the top of the church and a square of green, the central square i am looking for. The bus keeps going. The terminals should be on the other side of the park, and back a bit. We keep going and i get nervous. On an older corner building i spot the name of a street (a rarity in this land without street signs), way beyond where i want to be. We are on a one way street, maybe we will loop around and go back. We get to a Y with a gas station and keep on going. Someone rings the bell, we stop across from a megastore – i walk up “centro” i ask i am not understood, and i get off. Where the hell am i? It is beyond the map. I will walk back.

I turn around, and start the walk. Past the Y, the sidewalk gets iffy but i follow three students. It must be up ahead. The traffic is crazy with no (optional) stop signs, and i know i must eventually cross the street. The boys disappear, and i walk alone. A semi scruffy guy up ahead, his coat falls from his daypack  and i pick it up and call out to him forgetting the word for Sir, another man calls out to him in spanish, Senore. He thanks me and turns to speak to me in English and points me on my way.

I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I get to the centre park with its fountain and trees, to the church and enter but do not really see, the town does not look at all colonial to me, for it is not, much of it destroyed over time, and does not seem quiet. I wander around, and go have lunch – a much recommended veggie resto near the university – i imagine a cute courtyard where i can relax and linger but its air is institutional and the food is  mediocre.

I decide to head back, head back home. I go to find the bus stop. There are three that are there and no signs to indicate anything so I go to the one where the largest group is gathered. A bus pulls up that says “Heredia” on it and half the crowd gets on the bus. I ask a man where is the stop for Alajuela? He points to the bus as the last passenger steps on¨, i ask the driver if it is for Alajuela and he says yes. I pay my fare.

This road, while busy, is much calmed than the roads in or out of San Jose. Pass homes, condo complexes – everything with grated windows, and complexes with guard stations on private drives, but pass trees too. The road twists, a few walk along. If i had actually come this way, how different the experience in Heredia might have been. I would have seen it through different eyes. Someone once told me when i could not decide which path to take that it really didn´t matter for all lead to the same place. I now question that wisdom, for the path and the journey cannot be separated from the destination. You might arrive, but you will be changed along the way.

We came into Alajeula along a different route from the airport that the night before, i saw church tops and wonder if it will bypass the stop. As we get closer all looks familiar and i smile. I get off before the station in a corner that i know. I look at the bus and the sign still says Heredia. I have come back and now appreciate the tranquility of this town, and head off to a place i know for coffee, and over to the central square.

addendum 0 I edit this a day after it has been posted. I have been back to bus central, on a successful bus trip. As i waited for the bus to Volcan Poas this morning, i saw where i had made my mistake – across the street where i had been yesterday there was an old sign indicating Heredia, the big one up above was next to  where i now stood. And above the bus where i got on yesterday, was another big red¨”pista” sign. Maybe i was meant to take that journey.

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I slept long – finally a long deep sleep, lay in bed in the morning ignoring the alarm as my head is full of insights and the remnants of dreams, and i like the zone where i am. I feel rested, and groggy and calm. I am up later, much later, than i planned, so i will not go to Sachi as i thought i would when i went to bed but will go to see Heredia as i had initially planned. I feel relaxed after the intensity of the day before, and i move slowly in the morning, taking my time. I feel like a different person than i was in Buffalo, and i remember how i felt different there than i had in the places i was before.

And i realize how one feels different in different spaces and how it takes time to align with the energy that rests there -not only in terms of the rhythm itself, the rapid beats of the cities and the melodic songs of a peaceful countryside, but the energy that permeates all. I eat my breakfast, pen in hand, a papaya and a banana – not my usual fare, a black coffee. The water, be it from a tap or bottle, is different and as we replenish ourselves we change. The very air we breathe has followed a different course. So much is different – the sounds around – language, accents, background hum, the smells in the street and in a room, the definition of ordinary and how our activities differ while we are there. This can enliven and exhaust the self as we are thrown off-balance. For it is stress, positive stress. I have felt this transition, this being off kilter, many times before. But at breakfast i feel calm and alive.

But i ask myself, how much stimulation and how much assimilation of experience do we need – the exploration and journeys to new terrains versus the familiar and comfortable. What is the mixture between the two? And how much do we adjust when we ourselves are in motion, constantly shifting inside. Does the wave pass over, or through or linger inside becoming part of ourselves. Probably all of the above but in what proportions.

Is that why we create some routines when we travel? Why we discover “our place” where we are, that place for coffee or breakfast, a store where we pop into and learn the layout of, or that park or block we return to once again even though we feel that we should explore somewhere new. And it may be a habit or an item we have – a familiar food, or that little stuffed animal we carry around.

And is that adjustment, that shifting, that sense of being off, the living in the now but having to be alert, constantly negotiating new terrain, why, at least in north America, we have created so many anonymous places – the chain restos, the motels where the room layouts are the same, the malls and stores that we know. And does that deaden us or provide a base and leave more space inside to focus on other growth and negotiation. Our globe has gotten so much smaller, with so many on the move, how much of the familiar space do we need. And how soon does the unfamiliar become the ordinary and become ingrained so we search out something new in order to feel alive

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