Feliz Ano Nuevo! It’s a New Year in Costa Rica

View from the top, property directly above James' apartment

First of all, I would like to thank my beautiful hosts, James y Diego, and their new mama, Ka, and her brand new batch o’ puppies.

New Year’s Eve celebrations are a tricky beast. What’s the best way to usher in the New Year? The way you spend the evening and the resolutions you make are supposed to set the stage for what the next 365 days will be like. Each year cannot be as epic as the climax of When Harry Met Sally (you know, when they finally get together) but we want it to be.

A few typical expectations include:

  • Consuming large amounts of alcohol
  • Participating in a champagne toast at midnight
  • Kissing someone, anyone, when the clock strikes 12.
  • The singing of Auld Lang Syne
  • Suffering a massive hangover – goma en Espanol – from all the crazy-dance-party-fun you had the night before.

As a disclaimer, my 2010 transforms to 2011 weekend had none of these things in store for me. No rowdy parties, no more than a couple of glasses of vino, no champagne toast or midnight kisses (well, I blew some kisses stateside). This is a story about a New Year, 2011, with 11 new lives in it.

James y Diego’s modern one bedroom apartment in San Isidro is normally a peaceful, relaxing place to be. There’s a little sun porch off the back where five hammocks hang, inviting visitors to take a nap. When I arrived, the air was electric with expectation. Ka was bursting to the max with puppies. We had predictions ranging from 8 to 13. James had a dream there were 16 (born of an odd gray hue) so had the strange sentiment of being relieved when there were five fewer.

Ka’s eyes were wide and her breathing shallow and rapid. I wondered what it would be like to feel so incredibly pregnant with no one to complain to…no one to discuss the coming events. Her normal friendliness gave way to tension and pain. I kept my distance. She allowed Jamie to touch her pregnant belly, feel the taut skin where puppies were waiting inside, to inspect her nine teats, ready and waiting.

Kafu, their little Chihuahua, was recently the victim in a dogfight. He danced wildly at our feet. Though he’s still in recovery, the little guy walks around on three legs like a champ, taking laps and touching the 4th leg down now and again. Kafu is no fool, though, and he spends a fair amount of time looking up at you saying, “pet me, I’m injured,” with his very cute, buggy little Chihuahua eyes.

la casa

We had a grill out late in the afternoon complete with some kicking greens (avocado!), garlic bread and carne, carne, y mas carne. The meat was from a butcher in San José, all grass-fed, and it had a wonderful, rich flavor. We threw our glasses of red wine up in a quick cheers for the New Year.

A post-massive-meat-intake rest period ensued. Later on, James, Diego and I rallied and drove out into downtown San Isidro to see if any festivities were taking place. It was relatively empty, as most ticos go the beach for New Years. We drove past houses lit up with Christmas lights, several mangers and palm trees all lit up like evergreens.

The bar/restaurant we ended up at, La Cascada, seemed like it should’ve been a rowdy hangout. There was a hoochie transvestite in a white bikini-like number workin’ the street outside, but not much was happening inside. There wasn’t even a small waterfall for decoration, which made you wonder where they got off naming the place La Cascada. Just a little fountain would invoke a certain amount of irony.

We chose a table on the outskirts and watched the action. James and Diego ordered hot chocolate. There was a bit of a cool breeze? We did some quality people watching. Then the Cranberries song, “Zombie,” came on. If you’re unfamiliar, click here to refresh your memory: ZOMBIE, CRANBERRIES

We all rose to the occasion. So much so that a passing waiter also began to jam.

In your head, in your head,
Zombie, zombie, zombie,
Hey, hey, hey. What’s in your head,
In your head,
Zombie, zombie, zombie?
Hey, hey, hey, hey, oh, dou, dou, dou, dou, dou…

Diego was particularly good at singing that last line. You’ve got to really passionately commit to the “hey.” The countdown to midnight came and went, and the DJ played the Costa Rican national anthem. Fireworks shot into the sky from around the city, exploding into a grand finale all at once.

When we got home – that’s when the real action started. One newborn puppy lay squeaking aggregately beside a distressed Ka. Diego speculated that the fireworks were stressing her out so much she popped out her first puppy at midnight. She was pacing and trying to dig into the carpet they had laid down for her. Diego pulled up the carpet and she dug at the newspapers on the ground, trying to make a nest. When the puppy tally reached three, Ka settled down a little and we retreated for bed.

I couldn’t help but think of the Mary Chapin Carpenter song, “This shirt:”

This shirt was the place your cat
Decided to give birth to five
And we stayed up all night watching
And we wept when the last one died

I awoke in the morning to five squealing puppies. There was a moment when Ka birthed a puppy that was not breathing. We all waited tensely, watching for the tell-tale rise and fall of breath. Ka licked the puppy roughly from the tummy up, and he suddenly came to life, coughing up fluid. Collective exhale. Throughout the day the number increased to 8, then 9…

Needless to say, we spent most of the New Years day close by her side, watching puppies be born. The dog trainer/vet came in the afternoon and cut their tails down to the customary nub. Tail docking is a surgical procedure performed with a surgical scissors and the wound is burned shut. The puppies didn’t put up too much fuss, but it still seemed brutal. Looking at the little puppy tails just lying there on the ground, all for the purposes of aesthetics, was certainly disturbing.

After each couple of puppies born, Ka became anxious, licking the puppies clean and the area in which she’d given birth. They moved her one last time to an upper loft bedroom, where she gave birth to numbers 10 and 11.

Proud Mama

We celebrated New Years day with champagne and strawberries, a blackberry and papaya batido (smoothie), mas carne, and a creamy garlic pasta.

Sunday morning when I came upstairs to put some coffee on, a small bird was flapping desperately behind the fridge. I was able to grab it carefully and was about to walk it outside when it took off through the kitchen window. These little yellow and grey birds are often swooping near the windows, through the railings and down the wall. When I arrived on Friday, James had just picked up a baby bird that misjudged the distance up a white wall and ran into it. She found another trapped in her watering can.

So we sat in the kitchen over espresso, eating a Tres Leche cake we’d purchased for the weekend’s celebrations and recounting the weekend’s events.

As a recap – en Espanol! – my non-typical New Years in sunny San Isidro included:

  • Dos copa de vino tinto
  • Come mucho carne y salada y chocolate
  • Cantando la canción, “Zombie,” por la Cranberries
  • Cachorros viendo nacer, ay, dios! Once cachorros!

Pura Vida, Mis amigos!


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