Puerto Viejo

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.)

Vive El Arte~

There was an art festival scheduled for Puerto Viejo last weekend. The posters were printed, musical groups were hired, and reservations at hotels and cabins made by countless people from the Central Valley.

It didn’t happen.

The Arts Festival was supposed to celebrate,well… The Arts. What that means here in Talamanca is a bit nebulous, though. The fliers said there would be live music, “Arts”, and “discussions and workshops about Alternative Medicine.”

According to the poster I saw the other day, the events started on the Wednesday prior to the weekend. Mostly it listed the musical groups playing at various bars throughout the area. There was mentioned an arts display on Saturday and Sunday, one basketball game, and one Indigenous dance on Saturday during the day, but the rest of the five-day “Arts Festival” happened at night. In bars. Music.

Puerto Viejo loves to party.

In fact, this area is famous for its partying. It’s a beach town. It’s a Caribbean beach town, and it’s wide freaking open. Don’t get me wrong. I love music and I love Reggae in particular, but this place is so totally out of control as to warrant an inforced police curfew.

In the past two weeks the English speaking newspaper, The Tico Times, carried frontpage spreads on the ever-increasing violence here. The murders and other criminal activities have been on a climb that would make Wall Street slack jawed with envy.

We can’t take it any more!

The police complained to the municipality that they have only four officers on duty and one motorcycle. No plans were made to increase their numbers for security. The police are unable to control the area in non-arts environment, much less with an influx of revelers here to drink, do drugs, and party through the night.

Puerto Viejo has no sewage treatment center and relies on open drains to the sea. A life-long resident we spoke to the other day said, “There seems to be something in the air.”

“What do you mean?” We asked.

“Well, it smell like someone pee. Everywhere.”

It has been especially dry here for the past few months and I imagine Puerto does smell like a dehydrated latrine at this point.

Port also has no regular supply of drinking water. Instead people rely on rainwater catch or a miserable system cobbled together that regularly dries up after a week or two of no rain. Any added stress and the town runs out of water. Restaurants and no water to wash hands make for a bad combination, in my opinion. We don’t eat out often.

So, last weekend’s planned Arte Viva Festival was canceled after a court challenge, which left the municipality unable to issue permits for events. Good, I say.

It was this entry on the planned activities that I found the crux of the issue:

Saturday, Sept 26. 9:30PM-ON– everyone is invited to Jonhy’s Place to continue the celebration.

Jonhy’s Place is a bar on the beach. It’s had a less than stellar reputation in the past. It’s open most of the night.

You know… The Arts!

Another Carlsberg Perhaps?~

(Back, by popular demand- I deleted this post but have posted it again…. for those looking for it, here it is.)

Our lawyer, PMT, who also happens to be the local municipality’s lawyer, was in Limon talking with the DA on our behalf (another story altogether). While there, she got a phone call from E. Cyrus, the local head of MINAE, the Costa Rican Parks Department. “I’m here in Punta Uva and have a small problem. Well… actually it’s a big problem. There is a group of people here making a Carlsberg beer commercial…. When I gave them the okay, I didn’t realize it would be this big.”

“This big” included three good sized generators, three helicopters, and an ocean freighter with containers on deck stacked like sky scrappers. These held all the equipment needed for the 200 (TWO HUNDRED!!!) staff members working on the commercial. Also, the Carlsberg people had cordoned off a kilometer of public beach using police tape (a Big No No) to keep people out. This is why Alan and I were refused our morning walk that I blogged about a couple of days ago.

Apparently Cyrus signed a permit so Carlsberg could use the beach without consulting of the Municipality. The permit simply said “en la playa,” on the beach, not delineating exactly how much beach would be used. And what kind of park steward okays a noise making project like this with three helicopters low-flying overhead 12 hours a day for three days as the monkeys run through the jungle in the opposite direction? (That was a rhetorical question.)

Later that day the Muni, the police, and PMT all went to Punta Uva to confront the beer company. There were words.

Testy Columbian in charge of the project to the gathered officials: “You can’t stop us. You have no right to do that.”

“Oh… no?” said the municipal official, motioning the police to begin to seize the equipment. They loaded up one of the generators and were working on the next when the Columbian relented and suggested that perhaps they should adjourn to the municipality office in Bribri for a discussion.

At the municipal office, the Columbian boss glibly flipped a piece of paper across the conference table toward the president of the Muni, Roly. “Here! We have a signed permit from MINAE.”

Roly, a linebacker-sized black man replete with gold chains and rings on every finger picked up the paper between thumb and index finger, as though it were contaminated, stared at it for a second, then flipped it back toward the film director.


It’s bad when you come to a foreign country and think you have a handle on how to move and shake your way around. There are many things you don’t understand when you do that. I am sure they felt, like Donny Rumsfeld and George Bush, that they would come to this stretch of Costa Rica and be welcomed like conquering heroes, the locals showering them with adoration– if not flowers. Those silly locals would at least stand in awe of such a miraculous event taking place right here in their backyard.

Instead, the Carlsberg people entered a place called paradise by some visitors, but Green Hell by many others of us who actually live here. A place where rancor has become a district-wide pastime, and almost anyone you talk to has some pending legal action against their neighbor.

But there was more they failed to take into account before deciding on this strip of beach to film their beer commercial.

There has been a mud wrestle fight here for the past 20 years about just who would have jurisdiction over this part of the country. The municipality has always maintained they have the right, as they do in the rest of the country, to collect taxes, provide services, issue permits, and generally act like a municipal government. The parks department, MINAE, has argued that they are the best stewards of the land because this is a National Park with “mixed use” designation. I won’t even go into that discussion for the moment because this blog does not have enough megabyte storage space for it. The battle has raged and burned like a peat fire all the way to the Supreme Court.

This year the Municipality of Talamanca finally won.

The formal agreement was signed by Cyrus last week– yes, the same Cyrus who gave the Carlsberg people unilateral rights to close the beach.

So, the Columbian filmmaker probably paid someone (or sometwo) a handy sum to slide this thing through and now faced the municipality and a fine for failing to get the proper permits. Once they realized they had no choice, an agreement was struck. Roly told them that they could pay the multa, fine, and make their little film, but they could not close the beach to the public.

“But this commercial is about a deserted island and there cannot be any footprints.”

“Well, you can see that it is NOT deserted and it is NOT an island. Pay the fine or leave.”

Roly then got up from the table, tucked his paperwork under his arm, and ambled out of the meeting leaving the Carlsberg people speechless.

The secretary for the municipality who is Spanish, petit, and normally quite charming, but who has worked side by side with Roly and has picked up some of his language, said to the filmmakers, “Paga los focking impuestos o no hace su focking pelicula.”

Pretty clear.

I’ m sure the Columbians felt that their own country might have been a safer bet to make their commercial right about then. They might even have found a deserted island where they would be left in peace.

I have not heard the helicopters today except from afar. I am sure the monkeys, if they are still around, are as happy as I am.

(Nope, I take it back. I was just about to post this when whoop-whoop-whoop, the focking hueys are back.)

The Best Beer in the World?~

Yesterday on our daily walk we noticed an odd and quite modern looking palapa on the beach. A plastic version of a bamboo hut complete with shoji screen doors and a plastic thatched roof.

What the hell is that thing doing here, we wondered?

We also saw men busy raking up the beach and hauling the refuse into the bush, dumping it on another man’s property. There were also two goal posts for soccer– futbol they call it here. Ah, we figured, it must be some wedding party or company picnic. We walked on, our dogs poking at various scents and generally enjoying the outing.

About two hours later, back home, the noise started.

A UH-1 helicopter, or Huey to those of you who spent time in Vietnam, flew repeatedly over our house,buzzing us. And when I say buzzed our house I mean about 100 feet over our head. It shook walls and rattled the pots and pans on the stove. We are used to the DEA or the Costa Rican Coast Guard cruising by on an occasional ineffective drug raid, so for the first hour we didn’t pay them any mind. Then the repeated pass-overs began to get irritating. By three yesterday afternoon I was contemplating using our nine millimeter to send a clear message to the pilot.

By four in the afternoon we were trying to get our daily fix of news– the American election progression and banking sector meltdown, don’t you know– and the the whoop-whoop-whoop was so loud we couldn’t even hear Wolfe Blitzer. Not that that is an altogether bad thing, but I prefer to use the mute button. It might be a contol issue, I’m not sure.

Alan said it reminded him of being in Tuy Hóa with Hueys overhead, and I felt like I was working the ER again with too many traumas coming in. We were both a bit testy by that time and had a snappy little exchange about the television remote.

I went outside with the binoculars to see what the writing on the helicopter said: Carlsberg.The beer.

Finally, just before dusk, they stopped.

This morning we were stopped at the beach by red police ribbon and a cheerful young man who told us we could not walk on the beach because there was a “Promotion” going on.

“That is a public beach. You can’t block it off,” says Alan.

Cheery Young Man: “Yes we know it is public, but for today and tomorrow you can’t walk here.” We are making a beer promotion and this is supposed to look like a deserted island.”

Alan: “That’s bullshit.”

Me: “Well please tell your jeffe that my husband is a survivor from the Vietnam era and he is thinking of shooting the helicopter out of the sky if it comes over our house again.”

Cheery Young Man: “Oh, don’t worry the helicopter is not working anymore today or tomorrow.”

We walked home and could hear the helicopter whoop-whoop-whooping its way toward us. By the time we got home it was directly over the house again.

We drove to Puerto Viejo to get some supplies for Alan’s latest project, a water feature, figuring being away from home was better than being under siege. At the hardware store we ran into Bob, the local Lotto salesman. We said we were fleeing the military war zone we normally call home and that we couldn’t even walk the beach. He had just been at Roly’s house. Roly being the president of the Muncipalidad.

Bob: “Roly just told me they came to him yesterday to ask if they could film. He told them it was fine with him but they could not block the beach.”

On our way home a truck load of Puerto Police were talking to the helicopter pilot.

It hasn’t been back since. I am enjoying the silence, as, I’m sure, are the monkeys.

Their ad promo might be: “Carlsberg. Probably the best beer in the world,” but their neighborly manners are probably the worst in the world.

I’ll be glad when they are gone. I doubt many of our neighbors will reach for a

when they think Beer.