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Penny's Peace of Paradise

A gringa and her family's adventures living in Costa Rica.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sapos, Snakes and Things that Gnaw in the Night

I recently heard about the danger of toads(sapos) to dogs here. We lived through a whole rainy season up on a ten acre farm, without a sapo incident, but since we moved here our new friends have shared their personal experiences with us, and it's frightening! If a dog takes a sappo in their mouth, or just licks it, a hallucinogenic substance on their skin is dog poison. The dog will quickly go into convulsions, lose muscle control, and will die in short order without getting help. The dog needs to be given egg whites with milk to counteract the poison and save their life. I understand that there is something that you can get a the local pharmacies also, but knowing we have the antidote here at the house is comforting. I explained the danger to the kids, and what to do if they see our dogs messing with a toad. We all cracked and separated an egg and I showed them where medicine syringe was. Sure enough, the next afternoon, they saw our dog pawing at a sapo outside their bedroom window. I ran out in the pouring rain to chase it out of the yard, and we kept an eye on our pup for a while. Fortunately, he was fine. The poison presents as a is also a hallucinogen, and if the dog survives, they are apparently drawn to sapos in the future, this according to the locals here...

Our home in located in a valley, so the water table is just below the surface of the ground. Our landlord said we would get "large worms" coming up near the pool and finding their way into it during the rainy season. Now, I can put a worm on a hook for fishing without wincing, but if a worm is upwards on five inches long, and thick as your index finger...that's a snake, not a worm! I do not do snakes, can't even watch them on tv, deathly afraid!!! I have only seen a couple large slugs in the pool so far, much to my relief!

When we moved here, we bought whatever furniture and appliances we needed, but at the time, a nice bed was not in the budget. We bought a mattress, cement blocks and a piece of plywood, just like college days. A couple of days ago, it was two o'clock in the morning, and I awoke to a loud gnawing on the plywood directly below me. It was so vigorous, I could feel every scrape of the vermin's teeth. It had to be "rat sized" given what I was experiencing! I woke my husband who mumbled something somewhat reassuring and fell back asleep. So, hoping the vermin would resist the urge to come traipsing up on the covers, I scooted over onto my husbands side and attached myself to him so as to survive the rest of the night. The next day my husband caught the intruder, and of course he was one of those itty-bitty little mice that look like a dollop of whipped cream, have a British accent and wear red velvet boots. We are surrounded by sugar cane fields and now that the rains have begun the number of these charming interlopers has increased in our casa. As I have often said about my children, "Good thing they're cute!"

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Gringas get two Mother's Day here, the American one today and the popular El Dia del Madre on August 15. I was ready to commit to only one this morning, until my children and husband showered me with good wishes, so I've decided to indulge myself in two Mother's Days this year!

A few posts back I expressed my desire for a girfriend, confident she would come...well lo and behold I met her two weeks ago! She is from San Diego, is married to a Tico and has two boys, almost exactly our kids' ages. We spotted each other while picking up our children from school, being gringas and blonde we gravitated toward each other and began chatting animatedly. Her family soon came for a visit and spent the day playing at our campo and we went to their home for gringo gathering soon after. She has been here for years and knows virtually all the gringos in the area. Most are retired without children, so it's nice for us moms to commiserate with each other. It feels so good to have a friend to laugh and compare notes with, to chat about our experiences and learn more about good places to procure everything from local organic coffee at a local finca, to a nondescript health food store nearby that sells fresh organic flours, grains, etc. She was kind enough to introduce me to friends who play mah jong, and I am now a "sub," who loves playing this addictive game, not to mention these ladies are a hoot! We sit out on their patios overlooking the neighboring hills and expansive valleys views below while we shuffle our tiles and tease each other.

My friend and I took our kids to a macaw refuge today, Amigos de las Aves, http://www.hatchedtoflyfree.org/. A gringa we met recently is living there trying to help her 89 year old, recently widowed father keep this amazing place afloat. He has had incredible success raising macaws there and releasing them into the wild. His methods have gone against the existing philosophies, like having to use a puppet to feed and care for young birds or they will never be able to assimilate into wild flocks. His hand fed birds have been released into the wild and mated with wild birds without incidence. They have close to 400 birds and the reality of caring and feeding these beauties is monumentally challenging! Her father relegated us with tales of the many birds and other critters who have lived there with them over the years, along with telling us about living in African and Afghanistan years ago. I hope they can find the support they need to continue their important work.

We headed off to lunch after our visit. I wanted to introduce our friends to the best pizza in Costa Rica, at La Antica Roma in Heredia. Lunch was so delicias and we ate like we hadn't had any food in days! Since finding this haven of wood-fired pizza nirvana, our family has eaten here too many times to admit, so the waiters waved at my happily as we entered. The place is always busy, as it was today. The time came to pay the bill and I realized my purse was missing. Apparently a group of nice looking 20 something gentlemen were sitting at a nearby table and must have grabbed it at some point. Let me say for the record, this is the first negative experience we have had since we moved here 17 months ago. We have been warned and read of the rampant crime in Costa Rica, yet we have walked around San Jose, and other towns with no problem. If you are aware of your surroundings, and keep your belongings close, you are less likely to become a victim. This absence of incident is exactly why I had become complacent and became a victim today. Wake up call received. They made off with 40,000 colones, about $80.00, my camera, and my id, not passport(passports are worth a lot of money, so you should only carry a copy of your passport with the most recent stamps and documentation copied.) It could have been worse and I guess I needed the reminder.

We came home and swam in the pool to let the experience wash away. So overall, a fun Mother's Day #1 for me. I'm looking forward to see what the next will bring!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It's Brilliant!

Spend time around your favorite British friend and you'll shortly hear...brilliant! Now it's my turn. A few posts back, I discussed a structure going up nearby made out of four old shipping crates. Well it's coming along swimmingly, and I spoke to a builder today about the plans for this multi-use structure.

There's a long well in the cement floor for oil changing, etc, and that is the area for the lubricentro with an office/storage located in the lower right crate. They've attached an exterior staircase, opened the end of the upper right crate and built a small balcony for a hair salon! But that's not all...the left side crates are going to become a bodega, or store! Four, maybe more, businesses in one cool building, it's brilliant!
I love that they are using some materials that would normally be scrapped, and I still say it would make a interesting house in the right location.