About a week ago, I moved to a new farm located in the valley between San Isidro and Dominical. It’s opposite in every way from Selva Armonia, including geographically. Here I look up at the mountains surrounding me instead of down at the whale’s tale of the Pacific Ocean. Everywhere I look I’m greeted by the most luscious green view. The rain and fog here sure are persistent.
It’s a battle not to think, I bet the sun is shining at the beach.
This farm was recommended to me by a couple of expats who were doing some decorative work with geometrical signs/symbols on the buildings at Selva Armonia. When the very same expat, Topher, showed up to do work as an overseer on my new farm, Fuente Verde, he said, “Miss Wisconsin’s here!”
That day we were beginning work building the owner’s – Derick and Tiffany – house. Coffee from the giant French press steamed up at my face.
Derick said, “You were Miss Wisconsin this year, or when?”
I laughed. I thought he was joking. After that brief chuckle I realized he was serious.
“No, I wasn’t ever Miss Wisconsin. Topher just calls me that because I’m from Wisconsin. It’s just a nickname.”
“But I knew Miss Wisconsin,” I went on. “I went to school with her. Does that count for something?”
While I was flattered that anybody could think I might have ever been a beauty queen – particularly when I haven’t washed my hair for a few days, am covered head to foot with bug bites, have felt that shaving’s over-rated, and certainly wasn’t wearing any make-up – maybe the jungle’s got everybody a little delusional.
Derick and Tiffany are building a very non-traditional house, made largely from clay, bamboo and a little wood. We put in posts to mark the front door and bathroom, which will have wooden doors.
Topher, who used to be a pro athlete, a massage therapist, and a geophysicist, now does a bit of everything. We were all up at the build site and Topher said, “Miss Wisconsin, come over here and stab at this cement.” Apparently, the more you stab at the cement, and the longer it takes to dry, the more firmly the cement sets. It’s also good for it if it’s raining, which is convenient, since we’ve no shortage of that lately.
It had rained all morning. I was wearing rubber boots, work pants, a long-sleeved trek shirt, and was soaked. A couple of minutes later a recently arrived volunteer said, “When were you Miss Wisconsin?” Lord knows I look nothing like Kimberly Sawyer, but thanks all the same, to the Goddess of Compliments in this sweaty jungle. There are many other volunteers here with me, which I am thankful for.
There’s a good deal of positive energy and momentum here. There are two ticos who are employed here and work/live on the farm: Aurelio and Juan Carlos. They are the strongest men alive. They can lift, shovel, compact, and machete things to no end. It’s insane watching them, and impossible to keep up with them. Several new volunteers are guy friends of a fellow who is a member of the farm, a young expat. They are from northern California. On their first day of work they tried to keep up with Aurelio and Juan Carlos. This was a mistake. One of them ended up back in the house with heat stroke, and the rest were wrecked after a couple of hours of work.
It’s widely thought that they get a little pleasure out of watching the volunteers try to do things like push an enormously heavy wheelbarrow up hill, filled with rocks to repair the road. I would too, if I had Herculean strength. We’re only a few days into working on the new house. Right now, we’re filling long sacks full of a mix of dirt, rock and cement. We put them inside the trench that lines the house and they, along with the French Canal underneath it all, provide drainage. The also act as the base for bamboo walls to be built around. If you get Aurelio and Juan Carlos in the right place of the assembly line, namely on the shoveling of material into the bag, it goes twice as fast. Really, it’s incredible.
The other day I watched one of them cut a path from the house to the road with a machete. It looked effortless, just long strokes back and forth, and suddenly all the overgrowth disappears.
This male need to one up each other can be summed up in a phrase recently taught to me, “gallo mas gallo.” I use it to describe displays of male masculinity. Roughly translated, it means “my chicken’s bigger and better than your chicken.” Or, my rooster could kick your rooster’s ass. When men try to outdo one another with displays of strength, you can call that, “gallo mas gallo.” Even when a dog feels the need to bark back into the night at a howling neighbor dog, that’s “gallo mas gallo.”
Honestly, a lot of what we talk about is bug bites. We’re all so itchy, all the time, and it’s a constant battle to stop getting bitten.
In the morning it’s, “How many did you get overnight?”
Other times, “Don’t itch it, it only makes it worse.”
“Keep it clean and covered. Out of sight, out of mind.”
We give advice on what to put on the bites: tea tree oil, aloe, and vitamin e capsules. Most of the time, we wear long pants, socks and boots. When we’re feeling brave, or it’s really hot, short sleeves. Even then it’s a battle: would you rather swelter or get a handful of black fly bites? I thought I understood how to handle bug bites from working at a summer stock theater. Door County bugs pale in comparison to jungle bugs.
Things I’ve learned about myself so far:
I’m always trying to hold on to my experiences. I want to capture it all. This sometimes makes it difficult to live in the moment, and to let go.
How to practice yoga on my own and how to be comfortable without my adrenaline, cardio high. I’m constantly working on shaping my practice so that it fits my needs, and trying not to be judgmental with the outcome.
My mind is a busy place. It takes concentrated effort to quiet it.
Pura vida, mis amigos. Write you again soon.