Walking along the newly paved road from Santa Elena to Cerro Plano and then onto Monteverde, each 10 minutes apart and all considered to be Monteverde, I mentally whipped myself, repeatedly over and over, continuing to berate the sheer audacity I had to put Mexico and Monteverde in the same sentence.
Just because they speak Spanish, have the same skin color as you, and eat arroz with every meal does not, in any way constitute a comparison so weak.
I. AM. A. JACK@$$. I kept saying to myself, as I came to the part of the one main road, the part where the pavement turns to a white rocky road, where your ankles hurt from so much walking because in LA you'd rather drive two minutes than walk 10, the part where you look to the right and stop in awe.
It's so beautiful you don't know how to describe it other than valleys of green mountains that dip and rise into the horizon, and where on a clear day you can see the giant lake that surrounds Arenal volcano three hours away. My former comparison would be like saying that Santa Barbara is a cleaner, nicer version of the dirty parts of Long Beach or East LA -- how much more off could I be!
The endless blur of green which meets the low clouds would make Monet want to paint mountains instead of water lilies, with air fresh from the arboles that makes the water clean enough to drink and fills your nose with just the right amount of dust. You would've never thought that dust could enhance your experience, but it does.
There are dogs everywhere, not rabid, but cared for by someone, somewhere. They venture out, never on leashes, and play with each other knowing that this is pura vida. They sit in front of the markets, hotels, by people's houses and will follow you into an art store where you will lean down, smile and give a little pat. If they cross the road, which they will, the car or motorbike which most men ride throughout town, will stop let them pass, and everyone will be on their way.
The school kids in their white and blue uniforms trek back home for lunch. They are not worried about being abducted or the ice-cream man being a pedophile and their parents sure as hell aren't worried either because they know that even a girl in the middle of the night can walk around here without being scared.
When I run into Diego, who works at the pension, and his friend, one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen, who is visiting from San Jose, and tell them my rainforest story and how stupid it was of me to follow those men, the girl stops me and looks at me, No, no you have nothing to worry about here, not them.
And over lunch, as they are eating their pollo con arroz y ensalada and I'm finishing gallo pinto of huevos con frijoles y arroz with the best salsa lizano in the world, I tell them that last night when I left the eco-festival, which they were at, I ran home. "Yes, it was very cold!" she says laughing. She doesn't realize I was running with a small can of pepper spray in my right hand.
I take a sip of jugo tamarindo, and feel the earring made of tamarind seeds that Yessenia at the co-op made for me that day. The juice that tastes like apple juice is desperately needed as I ate an orange pepper that would be a nice alternative for Novocain.
We sit around talking about Monteverde, how I love it, love the people, the sense of community but that it's too small, and they tell me that they understand -- you make up things to do when you're here because you want to be here. More of the friends come in, famous Costa Rican musicians and people from last night. Buenas! Mucho Gusto!
You say mucho gusto all the time, and if you are being served and you say hello, then you must also say nice to meet you. If only in LA I told the cab driver mucho gusto, now take me to Taco Bell and step on it. You don't say de nada, the pretty girl tells me. Diego interrupts, well you can, but it's cold, it's a Costa Rican thing. Yes, she agrees, it's cold and distant, we say con mucho gusto instead.
The mound of rice left of my plate when I'm done would make the Cheesecake Factory look like they are skimping on portions. I ask for it to go, tell my friends farewell and since everyone, including a former waiter, has asked if I'm on Facebook, I part with, "See you on Facebook!" We laugh, and I start my walk back to the co-op where I was at this morning.
Yessenia looks young, but has a 19-year-old son, and they both live in the tiny house right next to the "art center" where the women from Women of the Clouds come to work two days a week. For eight hours they sit around a table, stringing earrings and chat. There is no pressure, you make 80 pieces each and when you are done, you leave. The first group yesterday was timid, nervous when I took my camera out and, for lack of a better word, kind of lifeless. When I return from CASEM, the other co-op in Monteverde where I had lunch, the women are gone. I go outside and read The Fountainhead.
My mind wanders around, which is normal these days, talking to myself and reflecting. I think of how in America we do things wrong most of the time. Here, they know what they have, they appreciate it and protect it. People are kind to each other always and are aware of their environment. It seems that their culture is community, and when I went to the festival, there was no better example of that.
The festival was more of a community center event than festival, but here in Monteverde these celebrations are rare, so let's just call it a festival. Children are hula-hooping in the yard, getting their face painted, and I see a little girl crying when her father tells her she can't do something she desperately wants to. I eat a queque, cinnamon roll, and then go back for a second one.
While waiting for the musicians to come on, a boy sits next to me who I swear is no more than 16. He tells me he's a sculptor and works at a school, to which I feel so bad for him, at only 16! He tells me he's 24, and when I doubt him, he pulls out his license. We talk about things, and then he proceeds to talk so poetically, I swear he's heard this in a movie. "Flowers are my favorite composition because of their color and softness, like a woman, a woman is like a flower, and there are some strong ones, but that's not as attractive."
I write down every word he says, and when he skims through my journal, coming across his words, he looks at me and tells me he's flattered.
They show a video stressing the importance of conservation and how although they protect their forest, the deforestation surrounding this country is effecting it greatly.
Back at the co-op, Yessenia asks me if I want to go to the market with her, to which I reply SI! No one speaks English in the co-ops, so for the past two days I've managed to have long, interesting and meaningful conversations with limited Spanish and the occasional help of the dictionary that sits on the table.
At the market I buy a cooking magazine we later look at. I make her the matzo ball soup and gnocci, which I brought with me, and for more than four hours, we talk about things, somehow.
She sips the sopa. Muy bueno, me gusta, me gusta! She loves the soup. I explain what it's made of, how it's Judian, and that a lot of people in the US have never had it. She understands, and I tell her when I get home, I will send her boxes of soup. This woman f@$#ing loves matzo ball soup, she told me again this morning and then again before I left.
We flipped through the magazine and talked a lot about food, how we both love sushi and the lack of salads here. We talk about life and that she makes $2 an hour and that people that works in hotels make less and the janitors make less than $1 an hour. She says to my surprise, that tourists raise the prices here, so she can't afford the clothes and even the food at the market is too expensive. When I tell her that they bring business for hotels and restaurants, she agrees, but still, they raise the prices.
We look at a recipe and it says "rica," which I look up. It means delicious. Yessenia starts to laugh and tells me when a very beautiful girl walks by, men say "Adios rica!"
Today, in the morning, at 7 a.m., I see the women gather outside the house. I've slept on a mattress on the floor, and slept like s*@#. They are a ferocious bunch, full of laughter and jokes, a complete 180 from the last group. I'm thrilled. Lots of video captures them kidding around and working. I show them pictures on my iPhone of Alex, Muy guapo! Yo se! and of my flowers, which they love. Only callas blancas here, and they are fascinated by the green and yellow ones.
Yessenia pours me a cup of coffee and gives me a slice of her mama's pancake, a dense, slightly sweet thick bread. It's dry, crumbly and goes perfect with the coffee. I have a 9 a.m. meeting at CASEM, so I speed walk there, sweaty and dirty, and meet two more women. They are fascinating and lovely. They show me the machines they use for embroidery, and tell me that CASEM takes 35% of what sells there, which seems pretty fair. I buy the only items they each have there at the moment, a children's purse and a tote bag with a bird on it. It cost $28, which puts the fair in fair trade! Geez.
After two hours with them, I return to Yessenia where she calls a taxi to take me to her parents finca in San Luis, 20 minutes away. The roads are windy, and more mountains and more beauty unfold. Only her mama is there, papa es en Santa Elena, and she speaks no English.
She makes me homemade tortillas, solely of maiz y aqua. She shows me how to make one and tells me I did it perfecto! I've captured this moment on film and am sure Anthony Bourdain will have a run for his money after Travel Channel gets a hold of this. I eat the tortillas with cheese from the Monteverde factoria de queso and one with chopped potatoes. The blandness of corn and water on the cast iron grill, topped with buttery potatoes is mouth-wateringly good. I want one now.
Everyone asks me when I will return, and when I do, I better be fluent in Spanish. Her mama says that for $15 a day, I can live with her for a year. She will provide all of the meals and teach me Spanish. Alejandro vive en la casa tambien, por treinta dolares. When I go back and tell Yessenia this, she laughs.
Her mama gives me a tour of the farm. There are chickens, ducks, dogs running free and they grow nearly everything you'd need, mangos, papayas, oranges, chilies, bananas, limes, lettuce, tomatoes, they eat the eggs from the chickens -- and probably the chickens too. They are growing sugar cane and coffee, and she stresses the point that they are grown organically with no chemicals at all.
After an hour I return to Yessenia. We chat a bit more, and we walk to the part of the road where we part ways. I'm sad to leave her.
The people here say I look like a Tico, and I'm happy with that. I'm sure I will be one day al futuro. I'm going to miss this town.