Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mountains & Ocean

We just got back a few days ago from our first real vacation in a while, a long week in Costa Rica. Went up Cerro Chirripo, tallest peak in Central America, and learned to surf at Dominical. Ate good food, learned that the Panamanian bus system is generally superior to the CR one, took one of the coldest showers of my life (water at 12,000 ft is chilly, amazingly), and brought home that favorite souveneir- intestinal woes.
But to back up, the Chitra fair was the three days before we headed out to CR. It was fun enough, lots of drunk drunk drunk guys wandering around, some dancing (yes, we danced, and hopefully well enough to shut up the locals who think Americans only dance to ¨rock¨), some beautiful produce for sale, and a crazy number of trucks driving around. On an average day, maybe two pick ups go by our house, on the feria days, it was dozens. Two other volunteers, Jessica and Adam, came up for the feria, we brought them to the good swimming hole and introduced them around. The road department also graded the road right before the feria, so I got to spend the two mornings before it fixing the aqueducts under the road that got torn up and busted.
But back to the vacation. We saw some great wildlife- monkeys, quetzales, parakeets, coatis, toucans, etc. We also had some of the best thai food we´ve had outside of thailand, though it was expensive, as everything was in Costa Rica. Also weird to be in a place where gringos outnumber the locals. The hike up and down Chirripo took two days, including getting up at 3:15AM the second day to get up to the peak for the sunrise. It was one of the hardest hikes I´ve done, covering about 45km and 10,000 vertical feet of climbing. The topography up top looks much more like something in California or Nevada, since it has been glacially carved. Then, we took our sore legs down to the beach. I took a surfing lesson from a burned out old surfer named Bob, he also owned a dog named Bob. Got up and rode my first wave, and it was a lot of fun. After two days of surfing, my arms were almost as sore as my legs, and I had a wonderful rash from the surfboard. We camped at a somewhat crowded surf camp, and the time flew on by.
Finally, we stopped at a beautiful botanical garden & preserve on the way back to Panama. It had amazing diversity in a relatively small area. Now we are back, after marathon bus rides, in Santiago, doing paperwork for the Peace Corps and sweating profusely.
Tomorrow we head back up the hill to chitra; this has been our longest absence since we arrived, and it will be hard to go back in some ways. I have to admit, I´m frustrated by the lack of desire to try new things people have, and the terribly awkward and unorganized and fruitless way people do go about things when they are motivated. All these guys think they always know what they are doing, and just lunge into the work, often duplicating or undoing the work of others. There is rarely any attempt to create a consensus on the best plan before work begins, and quick and dirty prevails over careful and quality every single time, even when there is plenty of time for the latter approach. I cringe and shake my head a lot. It seems overwhelming, but I guess I can make a start of it. A break has been good, but it also makes it hard to go back there and struggle. Well, I guess I signed on for unexpected challenges that I have no experience with solving, and I guess that is what I´m getting. More than anything though, the resigned and fatalistic attitude bugs me, especially how everything is someone else´s fault, and just how vocal they are about assigning that blame over and over.
Well, I don´t want to end on a sour note, so I´ll tell about spotting quetzales at the ¨quetzal bench¨in the Chirripo National Park. We´d been hiking for hours, descending through numerous ecotones, finally getting down into the cloud forest. We took a break, sitting on the quetzal bench, when a flash of color made us jump up and look down the ridge. Sure enough three quetzales were making their way along, and I can now understand why they were considered holy by the Mayans, such incredible colors. I feel lucky to have seen them. In fact, something happens almost every day that makes me feel lucky to be here.
And yes, that is a hot dog sitting on our cat´s face. Usually he is addicted to these things, and will beeline for the kitchen when we pull one out. But somehow he slept through having one propped on his head. It was funnier if you were there.