Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Christmas in the Caribbean

As Christmas is full of disrupted normality we decided not to do border crossings or any major travel over this time so have been in one place -Puerto Viejo - until it all goes away! 

As a non-lover of this time of year it's been great to avoid the 2 month build up; the tinny Christmas music in every shop, shops, and poorly written Christmas specials on the TV.  Even my FOMO hasn't kicked in for the many work parties I'd normally be going to.  Instead it's all felt very normal right up until the actual time of Christmas. 

Despite being very Catholic as a nation (less so here due to the amount of Rastafarians) Christmas is understated - decorations are low key, carol concerts start around the 23rd, poor electricity supply puts a stop to 'whose house looks most common' lights competitions & it's all over by the 27th.   
On Christmas Day we went to the beach & there were lots of families there having beer & BBQs & enjoying the time off work then everything was back to normal by Boxing Day.  

We met up with another couple we first met in Guatemala & enjoyed a Christmas dinner together. The English chef has been persuaded to add roast potatoes & Yorkshire pudding onto the menu which was appreciated. While Chris & Toby had the turkey, Alison & I had a huge plate of random veggie curry stuff (with Yorkshire pudding!) - made a change from my traditional cheese & tomato sandwich. 

There is little here to do other than walk/cycle to the beaches and reserves. No bad thing as it's made us sit still for the longest period since we left the UK so have been fully rested and have read lots. Proper reading for enjoyment as opposed to reading to work out which bus/boat/hostel we need to aim for.  

We've been hiring bikes to get around the coast line with mixed success. Bikes here don't have gears, and you brake by cycling backwards. Takes a bit of getting used to but easy enough if a) the bike does actually have brake pads b) your mud guard doesn't fly off going down hills c) the chain doesn't unattached every 2 miles. 

Yesterday we cycled to an animal rescue sanctuary and got attacked by large flying stinging ants when we came to unchain the bikes from a tree. They went for Chris so badly he had to run into the sea throwing his clothes behind him(fear not- he was already wearing swimmies) to get them off.  Even then they waited by his t-shirt for his return. Persistent bugs around these parts! 

The sanctuary was great (Jaguar rescue sanctuary) - they take in whatever needs their help and release them when they're fit again. We got to see a crocodile (rescued on Xmas eve from a man in a bar trying to sell it for meat), owls, monkeys (we went in a cage with 4 of them as part of the 'keep the baby monkeys entertained' programme), a sloth who keeps falling out of trees (see in the pic that she's sleeping on the floor but instinctively holding onto the tree as though she's hanging), snakes, spiders (including the infamous dinner plate sized bird-eating spider), deer, tropical birds, anteaters, wild cats, red eye frogs and a rhino beetle: a huge horned creature which is incredibly strong (hence him refusing to let go of a large piece of melon).  We were advised if we get one on us there is no way of persuading them to let go until they want to so you just have to sit and wait it out. 

All creatures that are probably metres away from us each day but keep themselves hidden so it was great to get up close. Apart from the bird eating one of course. Happily never see another one of those ever again. 

Not much else to report as it's been all about the pura vida...

Couple of cultural observations: 
- size is in no way an inhibitor when it comes to the proud display of an underbum. The shorter & tighter the shorts, the more desirable the wearer feels irrespective of body shape. I'm between thinking this is admirable & a lot healthier than western obsessions with appearance, and thinking maybe not the right sartorial approach for breakfast. 

- dogs are very popular here & the need to have big 'dangerous' breeds is strong in the uber-macho Tico society.  Spaying is not popular though so there are lots of strays wandering around of all manner of terrifying hybrids:  bull terrier/dobermans,  husky/American bulldogs. All look like they could kill you but as strays they're generally wary of humans & only come to beg/share shade.  The latter is why Chris is now King of the Dogs on our chosen beach. While I lie in the sun with few interruptions, Chris reads in the shade & is stealthily joined by several dogs who take position all around him.  Watching him wake from a snooze to find a Rottweiler inches away from his face is my new sport. Yesterday he returned from a swim to find a large hound on his towel. Battle ensued and the dog conceded all but the edge where he literally dug his heels in and refused to let go. So they shared. 

- Rice & Beans is the breakfast of champions. Served for very little dollar everywhere from bus stations to restaurants Gallo Pinto (shown below with egg - we were splashing out!) sets you up until dinner & restores stomach imbalances (I'm being very polite. I think you'll know what I mean) through the magical medium of starchy rice + fibrous beans.  Here they tend to put coriander in it (unnecessary IMHO) or chilli.  The best places serve it with plantain too - a banana like large fruit that's eaten as a veg.  Chopped up and fried to crispiness is great. 

- Gringos eat the strangest things.  Due to the heft of Gallo Pinto we skip lunch and take fruit to the beach with us. An apple & Banana combo being the norm. This week Chris got himself a lovely big banana which turned out to be a plantain. Undeterred he ate it raw with only a small complaint of it being a bit savoury. The equivalent of a Tico visiting the UK, sitting at Lyme Regis eating a bag of raw King Edwards on the basis they're 'sort of like crisps'. Thankfully his pack of feral dogs mauled anyone who dared laugh at the schoolboy error. 

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