Extreme Weather

Let it Rain!

All went well on my return flight from Oz… until I arrived in L.A.

In Sydney, I waited endlessly at check-in but wasn’t concerned. Traveling is all about Being In Transit so it really didn’t matter to me if I sat on the plane, sat on a bench, or stood in line. At least in line I gave my derrière a rest. The check-in clerk was polite and asked how things were going. We had a brief chat about Obama and how the election created a sense of hope around the globe.

When we wrapped up he said, “Let’s check your ticket, shall we?” I agreed that that was what I was there for.

“Well,” he said, “it looks as though someone has upgraded your seat assignment. Let’s not look too hard into how that happened, shall we? I’ll just go ahead and check you in.”

My mysterious upgrade landed me in something Qantas calls Premium Economy, which turns out to be the equivalent of USA air carrier’s First Class. It was the luxe treatment: extra room to recline further, a foot rest, WIDE seats, a fluffy pillow, a blanket with a sheet stitched to the backside, decent food served with cutlery and linen napkins. The luxe! I arrived in L.A. 16 hours later, rested and ready for the second half of my journey.
The L.A. airport is a bit like the city itself; on first glance it appears glamorous but the further into the depths one descends the more tawdry it becomes. The bathrooms were–how can I say this?–grungy in a third world kind of way. They did have toilet paper on the rolls, but the whole place appeared to have been trodden down by thousands of human souls doing their business. And even though I washed my hands, I left feeling only slightly dirtier than when I entered. The kind of place where you check your shoes when you leave to make sure you are not trailing a piece of toilet paper behind you down the concourse. L.A.

At my gate (62) I discovered, along with my fellow travelers, that our plane was still in the hanger, having “repairs.” There would be an update in one hour. They would be happy to help with connecting flights but their computers were down so would we please form one line and wait. And, thank you for your patience. The woman in front of me had none, thank you, and badgered and bitched about the delays, went to other gates to demanded seats on flights, returning to bitch more to her husband, who seemed fairly unconcerned. She let all within earshot know that he *had* to be at a board meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, at eight o’clock the next morning. No one seemed impressed.

The agents eventually called those of us with connecting flights to Costa Rica to come to the head of the line. YO! That’s me! Two of us sprinted to the desk and received tickets on the next flight out, allowing us about 40 minutes in Houston to dash to our connecting flight. And, so I made it. Home.

 And now I am stuck here.

Alan met me at the plane and that was grand. Never has a hug felt quite so complete. I always feel connected to Alan whether we are together or apart but I much prefer to be “next.” Next is where I belong. We stayed in San José for a day and met with our lawyer to catch up on the details of our legal situation here. Don’t ask.

We arrived home to discover it had been raining. I don’t mean a shower or a thunderstorm. I mean Rain, with a capital R. All the rivers coming down off the Braulio were swollen and had torn bushes and banks with them as they rushed toward the sea. They ran brown with mud. We bypassed Limón but heard that the storm surge had breached the sea wall, flooding the lower part of the town. Down along the Caribbean there were places where the sea had thrown trash up onto the beach, and in some sections, where the road is close to the sea, it had thrown debris across the road.

 Puerto Viejo looked like a mongrel dog. Wet and bedraggled, the muddy streets bore few signs of tourism. I imagine most of them fled at the first signs of bad weather. There were a few stragglers sitting in the bars, but not many.

It rained all night Friday night. The kind of deafening rain that makes conversation almost impossible. Our porches were soaked and we wrapped up the furniture and pulled in the cushions. Nothing to do but wait it out. The power went out about 7 PM and then was on and off all night. I have to hand it to the guys from the electric company, I.C.E.. They worked their asses off keeping us connected.

The next morning we had the electricity back. That was the good news, the phone was gone. Our potrero was full of water and it was still raining. The water was 50 meters from our house. Our house is raised on meter high posts so we weren’t overly concerned. One of the good things about listening to your neighbors before building in an area you are not native to. We heard it endlessly when we were thinking of building:

Never build your house under a tree. Never build your house next to a river. Never build your house at the bottom of a hill. Always build your house on post, and make it high.

Saturday we heard the bridge at the entrance to Puerto Viejo was washed out and one of the two back roads to Bribri was gone as well. The one left is only suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles. The news today is of extensive flooding across the Caribbean slope. The footage showed people huddled on roofs of houses while they waited to be rescued by boat and taken to shelters. All vehicular traffic has been halted except for emergency use. We are at a stand still.

I am grateful for a solidly built house and a good roof. It is still raining as I write this, but it has subsided to a respectable drizzle. My dear father-in-law––rest his soul––would have called this rain, but he came from North Dakota and didn’t know rain from Rain.

Alan and I are cuddled up in our house, warm and so-far safe. Our phone lines are still out and there is no traffic on the road. We will know when they get the bridge repaired when we start seeing cars pass by. For now, it’s a bit like the “old days” when we went for days and sometimes weeks without light. It’s quiet and peaceful with only the sounds of the jungle and the rain. Like white noise it calms the soul and eases the mind, especially if you are dry.

I will give thanks on Thursday, and give food and clothing when I hear of an effort to do that for the homeless.

(my connection is too slow to post photos right now. Maybe later I’ll post a picture of the Puerto Viejo bridge that went out during the storm.)

Camarones, Por Favor

We left San José on Wednesday morning, headed for Puntarenas on the Pacific coast. This area of Costa Rica was originally developed during the colonial period and for most of the 19th century, Puntarenas was the only means of exporting the country’s products. Coffee was brought down out of the Central Valley by ox cart and sent by ships around Cape Horn to towns all over Europe.

In the mid 19th century things changed for Puntarenas. The government decided to construct a railroad from the capital to the Caribbean coast and contracted the services of the North American entrepreneur, Minor Keith, in exchange for some 300,000 hectares of land in the Caribbean lowlands.

After building the railway, Keith brought banana plantations to Costa Rica and established what was to be the precursor of Standard Fruit Company. Because it was much closer to Europe and ships did not have to pass around the treacherous Cape Horn, Puerto Limón became the premier shipping port and Puntarenas’ heyday was over.

It is still a bustling port town, but now it is largely a fishing town although recently there have been efforts to raise the economic standing with (oh, the dreaded word) tourism. Several large cruise ships now dock regularly and the once quiet promenade becomes infested with cruise ship denizens with their pasty white skin, plaid Bermuda shorts, and running shoes all shopping for gewgaws and plastic mementoes.

We arrived in town about noon. It was raining heavily, which is not normal for the Pacific. We drove around the deserted town looking for a likely restaurant to have a few shrimp. The boulevard was dark as rain whipped against the shuttered bars and cafes. Most of the places we knew from other visits were closed, all the chairs upturned on the tables. We finally found a small restaurant down toward the center of town and made a dash for cover.

The menu was extensive. There was even something called Fletucini Especial de la Casa. I adore the misspellings and the skewed syntax of foreign menus translating into English. As much as I might have liked the “fletucini,” we weren’t in the mood for pasta; we had shrimp in mind. I asked the waiter if they were fresh.

“Si, si,” came the upbeat reply.

We weren’t at all sure and so ordered the shrimp ceviche, figuring the lemon juice would at least kill any bacteria from a less than fresh catch. It was a wise move. The shrimp had been cooked in the lemon juice for so long they were like little rubber bullets.

We also ordered the maricos, or seafood, soup, which turned out to be the right thing to do. It was delicious and we ate it gratefully as the rain poured down outside.

We left there and drove north toward Liberia and the cowboy part of Costa Rica. The rain continued to hammer the windshield as we moseyed along. We took the new bridge that crosses over to the Nicoya Peninsula, replacing an ancient ferry, and arrived in the town of Nicoya in the late afternoon.

Nicoya, according to the Lonely Planet, has the dubious distinction of being the hottest place in Costa Rica (and they are not talking about the sex lives of the residents there). The Pacific side of the country is hot; I mean it is brick-oven hot with summer temperatures often reaching into the hundreds, and there is very little rain on that side of the country. We kept thinking how fortunate we were with all this rain and cool temperatures.

We found a nice hotel and concocted ourselves a rum drink to relax before finding … more shrimp. Alan flipped on the TV and channel surfed until the local news came up.

“Costa Rica gets hit with first tropical storm of the year,” the announcer said. “Torrente Alma golpe el Pacifico muy fuerte.”

The storm path on the weather map stretched from Golfito in the south to Peñas Blancas in the north–the entire Pacific side of the country. We picked our vacation to coincide with a huge tropical cyclone.

Dinner was at a huge roadside restaurant. Lonely Planet says, “The best place for a drink and delicious bocas (appetizer) is the consistently packed Guaycan Real.” We decided to give it a go. We arrived about 6 PM and the place was dark, but the chairs were down–always a good sign. It looked open… barely. We inched forward into the parking lot and someone flipped on a light, presumably to encourage us to come in.

That night we were the only diners in a restaurant that would probably seat 50-60 people, and we ate some of the best shrimp I have eaten anywhere. They were large, they were plump and pink, they had their tails still on (the only way to properly eat shrimp), and they were smothered in garlicky butter. They rested on a lettuce leaf and were accompanied by a crisp salad of cucumber, lettuce, and tomato and a few French fries. After a bit all the things on the plate began to taste of garlic; you can’t go wrong there.

I picked up a single shrimp by its tail and placed it in my mouth. An explosion of sweet garlicky sauce covered my entire palette. One bite and the soft yet firm flesh of the shrimp revealed the savory taste of the ocean. When I finished the shrimp I sucked the buttery juices from the tailpiece and laid it carefully on the side of the plate. I repeated this seven slow times and was crestfallen when I reached the end. I can’t say it was better than good sex, but it was close.

Alan, who is forever more practical than I am, simply ordered another platter and ate them too. We slept like stones that night.

It was still raining in the morning, Thursday, as we headed north toward Liberia and points unknown.