Mas Lecciones de la Selva

a little color on the foggy mountain

I have bed bugs. When I say, “bed bugs,” I don’t mean the fast spreading New York plague, that old-time pest. I mean I have bugs in my bed. I’m not safe between the sheets in my little cabin room. They bite me overnight.

So the other day I did battle. I went into my bedroom with an alcohol soaked rag and wiped down my mattress. I wiped down the bedposts and shelves because of mold. The next morning, I woke up with four new prominent bites on my feet. So I was all, “You want to fight?” and I took the bottle of alcohol and starting sprinkling the mattress down again.

I was told it’s a losing battle. Still, I am trying to stay positive. It’s hard to fight what you cannot see.

I went to bed that night with clean sheets. The new problem? They smell vaguely of cat piss. But there’s no way that the cats pissed on them, unless they can do balancing acrobatics on laundry lines and pee at the same time. Does mold smell like that? I kept digging my nose farther into my pillow, into the sheet, trying to figure out the smell.  I still have no idea. But I woke up this morning with fewer bug bites.

I learned that “tico” means local. This can apply to food, people or words.

lilies of the jungle


So, this tico who works at Selva Armonia, Ma Pa Cho, his real name is Carlos. But apparently in Costa Rica everyone’s named Carlos, so everyone has to have a nickname. Anyway, Carlos, a.k.a, Ma Pa Cho, had been bush-whacking with his machete all morning. He came to the porch with these beautiful lilies. I thanked him and admired the lilies. He only speaks Spanish, so our conversations are somewhat limited.

The other day we got as far as, “Te gusta bailar?” Yes, I like to dance. “Que le gusta beber cerveza?” Yes, I like to drink beer, although Costa Rican beer is nothing to write home to Wisconsin’s microbreweries about.

Then I looked for a vase. Only I’m in the jungle, so there’s no vase. This bunch of lilies has a giant stem. Ma Pa Cho takes an empty container from a liter soda and hacks off the top with his machete. I thank him again, fill it with water, and try to fit the flowers in. The stem is still too long. He’s hacking off chunks of stem with one fluid movement until it fits in the “vase.”

I put the flowers on the main table in the cabin, and they start to attract these little flies and bees. I came back a short while later and my expat roommate has ostracized the flowers. They’re now sitting outside in direct sunlight on a wooden slab, wilting.

Worms are man’s best friends, depending on how you define “friend.” Without them, we could not exist. On the other hand, they’re not much for companionship. We spent plenty of time transferring worms out of poor soil into a rich “worm bed.” Then you can add worms to any soil, whatever you’re planting.

Living with expats means you discuss government corruption often. If you mention politics, be prepared for a soapbox speech. On most things I agree. My number one topic of agreement with the expat is: change starts at home. Do not expect somebody else to make change in your life. If you want change, plant your own garden. Grow your own food and start seeking out the simple life from your front door. No more shifting responsibility.

Somewhere out in Costa Rica right now, a snake is biting somebody.

Cockroaches exist all over the world, the hardy sons-of-bitches. At least they don’t carry the same kinds of diseases in the jungle as they do in the city. They are still creepy-crawly. I still do not like to step on them barefoot.

Digging cat shit out of garden beds is gross.

It seems counter intuitive to be reading Gone with the Wind in the jungle, as it’s all about the civil war, southern gentry and luxury, but it’s worked well for me so far. There’s a surprising amount of applicable material to today’s world. I guess that’s what makes it a classic.

Always shake your towel before you wrap it around your body. There could easily be a spider – or something else with more legs than two – living inside of it. The other night, the generator stopped working right around dusk. I was showering, and I had just finished as the lights really began to flicker. I shook my towel, a huge spider fell off and landed on the pebbles that make up the shower floor, and then the lights went out. I did a naked, “this spider’s probably going to eat me,” fear dance, grabbed (and shook) a towel closer to me, and darted for the cabin.

There are also some bugs, wrapped in a kind of cocoon. Living? Sleeping? Dead? By the showerhead. They are either some sort of moth larvae, or aliens. One or the other.

5 Things I love, that Costa Ricans Also Love
1.    Avocado. Eat it with rice and beans, on French bread with olive oil and salt, made into guacamole, or enjoyed as a garnish on pasta or fish.
2.    Coffee. French press or espresso with cream and sugar.
3.    Dancing. Me gusta mucho los fiestas. Learn the meringue and Spanish!
4.    Open air…windows without screens, sections of the house without walls.
5.    Dogs without leashes
Bonus: Singing 80’s songs

Pura vida, mis amigos. Write you again soon.



  1. Fun, vivid post! I feel like I’m there with you.

    Bed bugs suck. I have had a run in with them in my past and I don’t wish it even on people I don’t like. 🙂

    Stay towel-shaking safe, Brit! It’s “Real Feel” -11 here right now and the snow over the weekend was of the major-snow-emergency variety. Enjoy the warm wonderfulness, bugs and all. Ha.

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