Category Archives: food

Sloth Sanctuary

One of the things that my daughter and I did when we were getting ready for our trip was to watch videos taken in Costa Rica.  We happened upon some videos from the Sloth Sanctuary in Cahuita (on the Caribbean coast), and were enchanted by the adorable, slow, gentle creatures that lived there.  So getting to see a sloth in person was one of our goals.

It was a fantastic experience.   There are so many places around the country competing for tourism dollars, but every indication I got from this place is that it is the real deal- they are in the business of rehabilitating sloths to return them to the wild, and providing a safe and caring home for those who can not safely live in the wild.  They are also partnered with a US University to add to the research base about sloths.  They are solitary animals who live in a relatively small part of the world, so not much is known about sloths at this point.

For our tour, we could either choose the 1-hour tour for $25, or the 4-hour “insider” tour for $150.  Although the insider tour was spendy, we were coming all this way to see the sloth sanctuary, and we wanted to get as much out of the opportunity as possible, so that’s what we opted for.  It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

We arrived at the sanctuary, and first up was “Breakfast with Buttercup.”  Buttercup is the first sloth that they received, and the reason for the sanctuary’s existence.  She needed a home, and the grandmother took her in.  They learned through trial and error how to take care of her, and over time people brought more sloths to them.  That’s how the whole program got started.  Buttercup was raised as a pet, since they didn’t know any better at the time, and she now lives in a hanging wicker chair in the dining room.  She is 22 years old, and is still doing great!

Buttercup was asleep in her chair when we came in.

Buttercup was asleep in her chair when we came in.

We had an hour to enjoy breakfast, get to know the others, and take pictures of Buttercup.  They served us cheese and tomato omelettes, fresh fruit, and toast.  Yum!  The whole mood at the place was so calm and relaxed.  Grandma was making and serving breakfast, her daughter was checking people in, and the grandson was the one who would be leading the tour.  Everybody there just had a very kind and relaxed air about them.  Even the dogs were mellow!  One was a puppy, though, and I accidentally got her riled up by petting her, so she got the zoomies and had to go calm down for a bit.  But even that was handled so gently.

Cypress in the dining room.

Cypress in the dining room.

An hour seemed like a long time, at first, but then Buttercup woke up, and it was time for her breakfast.

She woke up and looked around at us.

She woke up and looked around at us.  Since she is a three-fingered sloth, she has a tail that was hanging down through the chair.  The two-fingered sloths are bigger, and don’t have a tail.

She got started eating her fresh leaves.

She got started eating her fresh leaves.

We all gathered around to watch her.  She would take breaks from eating to check us out, too, then swivel her long neck around to eat some more leaves.

After breakfast, we joined one of the “regular” tours to meet some of their resident sloths and learn a little bit of basic information about them.  These sloths were some of the ones who had been there the longest, and weren’t candidates to go back into the wild.  One of them had only three legs, for example!  When he came to the sanctuary, he had a terrible infection and gangrene, and the leg had to be amputated.  Another just didn’t do well at feeding herself when she was released, and would always end up sick and hungry after a few weeks.  This is probably because she came to the sanctuary as a baby, and they haven’t had success in teaching sloths who were not raised in the wild by their mothers how to survive.

We learned the basics about sloths, their diet, and their anatomy, and got to ask questions.  Three-fingered sloths are smaller and darker in color than two-fingered sloths.  And they are not as closely related as you would think.

One of the resident two-fingered sloths.

One of the resident two-fingered sloths.

Although sloths are usually solitary, these two were a bonded pair, since they had grown up together.  I also noticed that lots of sleeping sloths like to keep at least one leg hooked around a branch as they rested, even if they were on a platform.

Although sloths are usually solitary, these two were a bonded pair, since they had grown up together. I also noticed that lots of sleeping sloths like to keep at least one leg hooked around a branch as they rested, even if they were on a platform.

From there, we went into the area where they keep the young sloths (but not the true babies!).  The star of the show was Jemima.  She was born at the sanctuary, but rejected by her mother.  Apparently, this is common when there is a deformity or other problem with the baby.  In Jemima’s case, she is growing very slowly, but appears healthy otherwise.  She is two years old, but is still the size of a baby, and needs a bit more care than the other sloths around her age.

Jemima coming out to get some food and for us to get a closer look.

Jemima coming out to get some food and for us to get a closer look.  The sloths really like having a stuffed animal or rolled up towel to hang on to.

They asked us not to touch the sloths, which I think is fair.  This is a rescue organization, not a petting zoo, and because of sloths’ slow digestion, any fragrances, chemicals, or diseases we brought with us could do them harm, especially considering how many visitors they get on a daily basis.  We did get a really up-close look at Jemima!  Here she is eating a hibiscus flower.

An iguana came running by the path.

An iguana came running by the path.

Some of the sloths in that area also had injuries or other disabilities.  One had become a paraplegic after a fall onto coral during a strong storm, for example.  In the background, we also got to see several sloths out for exercise on the jungle gym.

After that, the “regular” tour group went on a canoe ride, and we got to go up to the nursery.   Without a doubt, that was the best part of the tour.  That was the room with their tiny, tiny baby sloths who had just come in, or who needed special care.  They each had an incubator, but today was warm enough that they were out in plastic tubs on the floor instead.  Apparently, they don’t climb out because they don’t like being on a flat surface.

It was heartbreaking watching all of those poor babies, most or all of them orphans!  But they were absolutely adorable.

DSCN0842

 

 

 

DSCN0839

Look at that baby fuzz!

 

DSCN0857

Pria was the only three-fingered sloth baby.

Pria was the only three-fingered sloth baby.

 

The babies who were awake were all clamoring for attention.  When I went to see Pria, the three-fingered sloth, she was trying to climb out on to me.  She also really wanted to know about my camera.

At that point, I had to stop the video and apologize to her for not picking her up!

This next sloth was so new that it hadn’t even been named yet.

Finally, we had to say goodbye to the babies and go to the main area where the adults were housed.  Some of them were just being kept until they recovered from an injury and could go back to the wild.  The ones who can’t be released will either stay there, or go to a zoo.  We got to wash our hands, and feed some hibiscus to a couple of the adults.  The sloths definitely will do their best to get your attention and get you to keep feeding them one they know you have treats!  Their claws are better for hanging than grabbing, so you had to put the flower petals pretty much right by their mouths for them to be able to eat them easily.  The one I fed did lick me a little bit when he was trying to get the flower.

Another pair of sloths hanging out together.

Another pair of sloths hanging out together.

Then, we got to see their medical room and xray equipment.  They also had several jars of sloth fetuses that had died in utero or were stillborn.  Again, the point is to increase knowledge of sloths in general so that they can be better cared for and rehabilitated.

Two-fingered sloth and placenta.

Two-fingered sloth and placenta.

This three-fingered sloth died when almost old enough to be born!  Compared to many mammals, sloths are pretty well-developed when they're born.

This three-fingered sloth died when almost old enough to be born! Compared to many mammals, sloths are pretty well-developed when they’re born.

From there, we got to go on a canoe tour of the property.  It was a good chance to get a feel for the lush, tropical rainforest that we were in!  There were little crabs all along the bank, and every tree was covered in other plants that were growing on it.  There were howler monkeys in the trees howling at us, but I didn’t get any good photos of them.

DSCN0874

 

 

Bananas and their unique flower.

Bananas and their unique flower.

DSCN0879 - Copy

Quite a few of the rainforest plants are recognizable as houseplants in our area.

DSCN0886

The bird of paradise, of course.

DSCN0875

I have no idea what kind of flower this is.

This plant was in their garden by the river bank.

This plant was in their garden by the riverbank.

Overall, it was a fantastic and really memorable day.  I highly recommend this place to anybody who is interested in learning more about sloths.

Advertisements

First Slice of Pizza

Our family has a tradition of trying out a slice of pizza from a local place when we travel.  We rate the pizza and the place, with the goal of collecting everything into a pizza/travel blog.  That’s still mostly in the works, but I knew I’d need to have some pizza while I was here to carry on the tradition.

The problem is, with such a limited amount to time to try all the foods down here that aren’t available in Oregon, I just haven’t been feeling like going out for pizza.  But I was sort of intrigued, because the cheese down here is so different from the cheese we have at home, so I was wondering how that would affect the pizza.

Finally, my opportunity came.  I was in downtown fairly late (for me), and was likely to get home after dinner.  My bus drove past an open pizza place, about a block from my stop.  Nice!

The front counter

Looks like the perfect place to try out my first slice of Costa Rican pizza!

 

It was pretty similar to any other city pizza place I’ve been to- slices up front, you order what you want and they reheat it in the oven.  And it was cheap!  A huge slice was a bit less than $2.50, and it was about 20 cents more if you wanted the drink of the day with it (in this case, iced tea),

The slice itself was good but not great.  The crust was excellent- thin and crispy, but bready enough to fold.  The sauce was pretty good, but a little sweeter than I prefer.  In general, it seems like Costa Ricans like their foods to be very sweet, so that makes sense.  It had a good onion flavor.

The cheese was a disappointment, though.  There just wasn’t much of it.  The white specks you see on the slice were cheese, plus I think there was a little bit of another clear, melty kind on it, but very light.  In general, the cheese here doesn’t have a strong flavor, so especially since it was really light, it just got lost in the slice itself.  I even tried to pick off some cheese to eat it separately, but it still didn’t have much flavor to it.

The good news, I guess, is that this means the slice was not very greasy at all and probably pretty healthy.  But I still would have liked to have had more cheese on it!  I will have to try another place now just to see if it was a trend, or just the way that they made it at this particular place.

Nice big holes in the red pepper shaker's lid.

Nice big holes in the red pepper shaker’s lid.

Condiments were your standard red peppers and parmesan cheese.

The "pizza" part of the menu.

The “pizza” part of the menu.

It’s tough to see from this shot, but in addition to the pre-made combos you can order, they also had hamburgers, hot dogs, and (of course) gallo pinto for breakfast.

As far as the pizza goes, one thing I noticed was that they didn’t have a plain cheese slice available, or a plain pizza on the menu with any sort of “build your own” toppings.  It was buy one of their combos, or nothing.  The margarita would be the closest to plain cheese pizza if you ordered a whole pie, but they didn’t have a slice of it.  I got a slice of their veggie, of course.  It will be interesting to see if other places do it the same way.

Somewhere there is a rule that all pizza places need to have historical black and white photos on the wall.

Somewhere there is a rule that all pizza places need to have historical black and white photos on the wall.

 

Looking forward to trying a second place out and having a comparison!

Food Chains

Although I do not plan to eat at any fast food places while I’m here, I do think it’s interesting to look at what chains are here, and how they are different than what we have in the USA.  For what it’s worth, I did not see ANY major chains while I was in the south, so obviously this doesn’t apply to that area.

First, convenience stores.  The most common store is a local chain called Musmanni.  They are like a convenience store, but with the bread of a panadería.  I like the combo!  I feel like you can find one of these on every other block.  The second most common convenience store is probably AM/PM.  Those are all over the place, too.  But I haven’t see any 7-11s.

As far as fast tood goes, I feel like there are all the major chains from the US, plus extra chicken stores that are either local or from somewhere else.  At least judging by the restaurants and food places I see around, they really love to eat chicken here.

There are a ton of fast-food style chicken places.

There are a ton of fast-food style chicken places.

It's like spam, spam, spam, and spam, but for chicken!

It’s like spam, spam, spam, and spam, but for chicken!

McDonalds is all over the place, and they all have a “postres” kiosk in the front of the store that sells ice cream cones and other desserts.  These are always really busy.  I would almost say that they sell more ice cream here than burgers and fries.

Burger King has a “Whopper Tico.”  Basically, they took a whopper and added some local things to it: salsa Lizano, natilla (something in between mayo and sour cream), beans, and crispy tortilla strips.

Wendy’s has the “Fut Box.”  This appears to be a regular fast food meal, plus a cup of rice and chili, served in a box with world cup flags (for a limited time, but I’m still seeing it around).

Many fast food places advertise that they serve gallo pinto for breakfast, or a “casado” for lunch- basically taking whatever they serve, such as chicken, and adding it to a plate of rice and beans to call it a casado.

And, of course, there are the pizza chains.  Papa John’s and Pizza Hut are the two most common ones, I think.

Finally, there are the little storefronts downtown that have a variety of greasy fried stuff for sale over the counter.

Definitely plenty of options to get your fried food fix at any time of day!

Heading South

I got to travel to the rural southeastern part of the country this week, which is why I haven’t updated in a while.  Several of our students are staying with families down there, so I took the bus down with them, stayed a few days to make sure everybody was settled, and then took the bus back up by myself.  At the end of the month, I’ll repeat the process in reverse to get everyone back up to catch their flight home.

The bus ride itself was pretty uneventful.  This was my third multi-hour bus trip since I’ve been here, so I feel like I’ve gotten the hang of the little things, like how the tickets, bag checks, boarding, rest stops, etc. work.  It is a really nice feeling knowing what to expect, for the most part, even though I’ve never been to the area and haven’t ridden this bus line before.  This was my longest ride so far, at 6.5 hours, plus this time I was responsible for 6 exchange students.  In addition, we had two more Tico teens traveling with us.  I do have to admit that the kids did just great and didn’t need a lot of help from me.

We took the 4 PM bus, so it was pretty late by the time we got in.   Most of the students were picked up right at the stop by their families, but two of them would be staying in the next town over, so they stayed the night with the same family that was hosting me.

The next morning, we packed into the truck and headed up and over the mountain to bring the students to their new home for the month.  And by packed, I mean that there were 7 of us in the pickup truck, but luckily one was a little kid, and the truck did have a back seat!

This part of the country was so close to the border with Panama that we stopped by along the way.  Around here, the border is quiet enough that you might not even know that you were at a border if somebody didn’t point it out.  It was along a gravel road, and there was a gas station, a grocery store, and some construction that is supposedly going to have a few stores.   The road itself just sort of veers into Panama for a few meters.  If you want to actually go into Panama, there is a road that heads off in that direction, which is notable because it’s paved and looks well-maintained.

We got out to take pictures, and ended up walking around a bit.  That was neat because I spotted a post with the plaque that marked the border.  Compared to Costa Rica, Panama is known for having cheaper gasoline.  In addition, they use the US Dollar for currency, and apparently the exchange rate is currently favorable enough that you can save some money shopping and paying for your groceries with dollars.  Seafood in particular is cheaper in Panama, so the grocery store had quite a bit of that for sale.  The exchange rate isn’t as good as it was a few years ago, but it’s good enough to warrant some business growth in the area.

DSCN0480 DSCN0482 DSCN0483

I ended up being in the area from Sunday night until early Wednesday.  I was able to visit quite a few families and a couple of schools while I was down there, and I have to say that everybody was so kind and welcoming.  I know I say that about all of the places I’ve been in Costa Rica, but it’s the honest truth!  Especially down here, it’s a part of the world where they haven’t lost the ability to just casually drop in on friends, relatives, or neighbors if you’re in the area.  In Costa Rica, you go to the gate and call out, “¡Upe!”, and maybe the person’s name, to let them know you’re there.  If you do drop by to visit somebody, you might even be invited in for a meal, or at the very least a refresco (which down here is a juice of some kind, not soda), before heading on your way.  Because I was visiting several families in the same day, I had to be careful to not end up eating two breakfasts and several extra refrescos at every stop!

On my first full day there, my family asked me if I wanted to go for a walk.  I said sure, but really had no idea what I was getting myself into!  I noticed that they were packing a backpack to bring with them, and then they headed off at a brisk pace while checking their watch, and both of those should have been clues.  Anyway, they basically took off heading straight up a mountainous road!  Luckily I’m in pretty good shape from running, because it was all I could do to keep up!

We walked for an hour and 45 minutes before we reached the turnaround point, a little town that was nearby (uphill and about 8 kilometers from where we had started).  We stopped by a local pulpería (corner market) to get some snacks to recharge.  I got a little package of coconut cajeta, which is a sweet made from milk and sugar.  Then, we headed back down the mountain, this time in the rain.  We did stop by to visit a student on our way back, and were offered dinner as well.

The next day, I should have known better, but honestly these mystery walks to parts unknown were fun.  That day, we walked for “only” about three and a half hours total, and I think the direction we headed might have been a tad less hilly.  Plus, this pulpería had coke zero and yemitas, which are guava-filled sandwich cookies.

Unfortunately, both days I wore my Chacos, because I didn’t pack any good walking shoes, and I’m weird about wearing my running shoes for anything other than running.  By the time we made it back home the second day, I had blisters on the tops of both feet from the straps!  Ouch!  Hopefully they heal up soon!  Not just for the sake of my feet, but because I need to be able to wear those sandals again!

The reason my hosts were walking so much is that they are preparing for a 250+ kilometer walk from their home to the Basilica in Cartago.  The walk is a yearly pilgrimage.  Over 2 million people are expected to walk to Cartago, arriving around August 2.  My hosts were planning about 9 days for their trip, which means that the walks we did were short compared to what they had ahead of them!  But these were sort of a trial run, which meant they were trying out all of their gear and supplies to make sure they had what they needed.

And what was needed turned out to be Crocs with maxi pads for insoles.  Apparently the pads are soft enough to provide some cushion, and absorbent enough to take care of sweat, plus you can change them out if they get nasty.  It’s not how I would do a long walk, but I was the one who ended up with blisters, so clearly I should not be the one to talk!  There was also some experimenting with gel heel pads, which I tried myself earlier this year when I was fighting plantar fasciitis, but those just wouldn’t stay put in the crocs-n-socks walking setup, so I don’t think they will be taking those.

One interesting thing to me was how “rural” means something a little bit different in Costa Rica than it does in the US.  In this area in Costa Rica, coffee production is the main source of revenue, and there is almost no tourism.  In addition to coffee, quite a few other crops grow well down there.  At the house where I stayed, they had 1-2 trees of a whole variety of fruits, not for sale, but just for their own consumption.

DSCN0488 DSCN0489

Here is downtown.  The taxis down here are pickup trucks with covered beds, so that they can handle some of the rougher roads.

Here is downtown. The taxis down here are pickup trucks with covered beds, so that they can handle some of the rougher roads.

DSCN0497

Cacao.  The white part is edible, but tastes nothing like chocolate.

Cacao. The white part is edible, but tastes nothing like chocolate.

Cacao seeds, dried and ready to be toasted.

Cacao seeds, dried and ready to be toasted.

DSCN0510

Coffee

This is anona, I think.  Very tasty when ripe!

This is anona, I think. Very tasty when ripe!

So, that’s definitely what you would call rural.  But when I think of a rural area in the US, I think of everything as being really spread out.  Here, the houses were still pretty close together.  Not right up against each other with one portón touching the next, like it is in the city, but pretty close.  And the town I was in had a very definite downtown, even if it was only 2 blocks long.  But what really makes the difference is that between the clusters of houses and businesses, that’s where the space is.  It was noticeable on our walks.  Even the small area we were in was composed of several different little mini-towns, (San Bosco, San Antonio, etc) but then it was all fields, or mountains with undeveloped land, in between. 

The town where the other two kids were staying was even more remote, but still, the houses were clustered together into neighborhoods.  It’s just that I didn’t really see a downtown at all in that town.  If I had to guess, I’d say that there was probably at least a minisuper and a soda (small restaurant serving traditional food) somewhere, but maybe not much else.  But I wasn’t really taking a running tally when I was out there, so I might very well have missed some stuff.

It’s also interesting to see which things from US culture have and have not found their way down there.  There was definitely a lot less English spoken in the area, mostly because there’s just not a need for it since there aren’t really any tourists.  Kids do study English at school, though, especially if they want to go into the tourist industry when they graduate.

Cable TV and US TV shows dubbed into Spanish were really common.  The teen in the house also liked to watch music videos, so I got to see a Franz Ferdinand video for the first time while I was down there.  It definitely felt like a juxtaposition!  The next few songs that came on were in Spanish, followed by a heavy metal show.

Out of all the families I visited, I don’t know that anybody owned a computer.  But just about everybody had smartphones with data plans.  So web sites that can be accessed on a mobile device were pretty well used and common.  We could be in the middle of nowhere on our walk, and the family would still be keeping track of an important Facebook post and the replies!  On the other hand, I was pretty much off the grid with my not-smart-phone, especially since coverage from my cell carrier was spotty.

I definitely had an opportunity to feel how lucky I was, not just for the kindness and hospitality of everybody that I met, but also for the little window into everyday life in rural Costa Rica.  My work here as a chaperone gives me the opportunity to go to some of these places that are far from the tried-and-true tourist areas, but it also gives me the chance to get to know some people and a little bit about their day to day lives.  What a wonderful experience this has been!

Various Notes

Here are a few things I’ve noticed that are probably not worthy of their own topic.

Striped Polo Shirts– Costa Ricans LOVE striped polo shirts.  Seriously.  If you are outside and there are more than 1-2 people around, all you have to do is think “striped polo”, look up, and I guarantee you that you will see at least one person wearing one!  Bonus points if it’s red, white, and blue!

Red, White, and Blue– Those are also the colors of the Costa Rican flag, and around here it is very common to see people wearing their nation’s colors with pride!  Even if they don’t have all of their colors on one item of clothing, you will see a lot of outfits put together to feature all of the colors.  For example, a guy out running today had on a blue cap, white shirt, and red shorts.  Part of this, I’m sure, is due to pride in La Sele’s world cup success, but I don’t think that’s all of it.

 

Statue in Parque Central

Statue in Parque Central

Clean floors/streets– This is another thing that seems very important to people down here.  I have never been at the gym and NOT had somebody mop around my treadmill while I was running.  When I did a long run at the gym, they mopped twice!  It’s not uncommon to see them mopping out the parking garage there, either.  I am wondering if part of it is the rain mixed with tile floors means that there is probably a lot of mud getting tracked in.  Also, clean streets seems to be a big priority for people.  Now, I’ve heard quite a few complaints about the littering, but honestly for a city this size, the streets are pretty clean.  There are crews out working to clean very regularly.  At the vegetable market, you do just throw your fruit rinds from the samples on the ground, which feels very weird.  But apparently somebody does come through and clean up afterwards.

Parks and vegetation are a slightly different story.  Because of the climate, things grow very quickly.  When I first got here, for example, Parque el Bosque (close to my house) was very overgrown, but I heard that it had been mowed recently.  They came about a week later, and it took weedwhackers to tackle the grass.  It was several days worth of work, and then I guess they had the day off or something, because the piles of what they cut just stuck around for a few more days.  But since then, they’ve been back to mow and prune a second time, and it’s looking nice.  Seeing municipal workers out pruning the vegetation or mowing/weedwhacking in parks is a very common sight.

Signs in parks asking people not to litter ask nicely and try to appeal to people’s sense of shared ownership and pride in their community and the environment.

Guachimán (pronounced almost like “watchy-man”)- Almost every business, and many neighborhoods, hire private security guards.  Sometimes they just stand near the entrance or “la caja” (cash register) and keep an eye out.  Sometimes they are near the door, and you need to talk to them and let them know what you want before you can come in.  Sometimes, the door is locked or closed behind a gate, and you need their permission just to get in.  In my neighborhood, the guard goes by several times a day on a bicycle with a whistle and a billy club.  I hear a rumor that he’s actually only the guard for the other side of the street, though!  

Street vendors– It’s very common, I think, in all parts of Latin America for people to go block to block selling various items.  They go by in car or on foot, either calling out or with a bullhorn saying what’s for sale, and sometimes talking about it’s high quality and/or low price.  Occasionally, it’s a recording on repeat.  It actually seems less common here than what I remember from Mexico.  In some neighborhoods where more people drive, I don’t think they come around at all.  But if you need to get around on foot or by bus, sometimes it’s worth the convenience of having the items come to you.

Our most regular vendor is the egg guy.  He comes by every morning in this car, playing a recording of his sales pitch.  There are other egg guys that sometimes come by later in the day.  We don’t buy eggs from him because he only sells cartons of 30, and we don’t use that many.

The veggie truck comes every Thursday afternoon.  The prices apparently aren’t the best, but if you buy your produce at the market over the weekend, you are likely to be out of stuff by Thursday and need a few things to get you through to the weekend.  You also just have to take your chances that he will have what you want.

I have also seen guys selling wooden furniture and blenders go by the house, and people coming door to door to ask for food and/or money.

Out and about, there are of course street vendors that have a specific spot where they sell.  Sometimes, they sell the same thing, for example the mango sellers by my bus stop.  Sometimes, though, they change with whatever is happening.  During a downpour, for example, all of the street vendors put away whatever else they had and started selling umbrellas.  During the world cup, there were lots of flags, posters, and jerseys for sale.  When I had to catch an early bus, I noticed that in the morning, it was mostly newspapers and empanadas for sale.

Lottery tickets are HUGE down here, and there are vendors out all over the place selling lottery tickets.  They seem to do a lot of business.  Many people join a group and buy together instead of buying individual tickets from the vendors.

The most common items that I see for sale, other than produce and lotería, are cell phone cards, fried chicharrones, plantains, and yuca, DVDs, socks, leggings, hair ties, bracelets (and supplies for making those loop band bracelets), arm warmers (?), and purses/wallets.

Toothbrushing– Costa Ricans also love clean teeth.  They brush after every single meal, and there are toothbrushing stations at schools.

Suicide shower head

“Suicide” shower head.

Hot water– Apparently, hot water is on the “sort of nice to have, but not essential” list.  Most houses that I have been in do not have hot water anywhere but the shower.  Water for the shower is heated by an electric shower head that often combines running water and bare wires right above your head.  Some houses don’t have hot water for the shower, either.  Even if they do, if the water heater breaks, don’t expect anybody to be in a hurry about getting it fixed.

Toilet paper– Most of the time, you do NOT flush toilet paper down here.  There will be a small garbage can by the toilet to put it in.  Again, that’s not uncommon for Latin America.  What does seem different is the way that it’s referred to here.  In other places, it’s said that you don’t flush your TP because the sewer infrastructure can’t handle it and you’ll clog the toilet.  Here, at least according to the signs that are up in every single bathroom, not flushing your TP seems to be a matter of respecting your environment and the waterways, and that it’s cleaner for TP to go in the garbage.  Same practice, different way of looking at it, I guess.  Maybe it’s just that clogging the toilet isn’t a good way to respect the environment. 😉

Flax and Chia seeds– You’ll be happy to know that chia seeds are just as trendy here as they are in the US.  Maybe more so, because of the tradition of having fruit smoothies and taking the healthful properties of foods very seriously.  However, nobody is nearly as crazy for chia as they are for linaza, or flax seeds.  They put them in everything.

I guess that’s it, for now.  I will probably be busy over the next few days, and will catch back up next week.

Food

Ticos seem to eat 4 times a day- breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee, and dinner.

Breakfast– Costa Rica’s most well known dish, gallo pinto, is a traditional breakfast food.  The way “pinto” is made in my house is that some of the leftover beans from the previous day’s food are mashed slightly and cooked with oil, onion, and salsa Lizano (a local sauce similar to Worcestershire sauce).  Then, you add some of yesterday’s rice, and when it’s heated through, you have gallo pinto.  I hear there are regional differences.  For example, when I was in Guanacaste, they talked about how their pinto isn’t usually made with peppers or onions, that it’s mostly rice and beans.

Along with your gallo pinto, you might have some corn tortillas, an egg, some toast, or a slice of queso Turrialba (a local white squeaky cheese).  If you’re really lucky, you might have some fried maduros (ripe plantains) too.  

From what I hear, ticos like to eat a full meal for breakfast because it can be too hot to eat in the middle of the day.  So on really hot days, a good breakfast can get them through their day until it cools off a bit in the evening.

Lunch– This seems to vary a lot depending on people’s schedule.  Traditionally, I think lunch is a lighter meal because you are busy or it’s hot out.  However, it seems like my host mom tends to eat a fuller lunch and then a lighter dinner that might just be leftovers from lunch.  But I think that’s because she’s generally home during the day and has time to cook a full meal.  In the evening, there is often stuff going on, or people around, so there’s not as much time to cook.

The “traditional” Costa Rican lunch is the “casado” plate- the meal that a wife would pack up for her husband to take to work with him (the name means “married”).  It has rice and beans, a cabbage salad, your choice of meat, and fried plantains.  I hadn’t ordered one before because of the focus on the meat (you usually just ask for a casado at a “soda” (traditional food place) and name your meat, but at today’s soda, they had a vegetarian casado that came with some cooked squash instead of the meat.

Another traditional food that Costa Ricans might have for lunch and dinner would be a picadillo.  Basically, it’s whatever vegetables or meats you have cut up into really small pieces and sauteed.

It seems to me that foods are also traditionally served separately, except for when they are mixed into a salad or picadillo.  For example, when it’s not in gallo pinto, rice and beans are usually served separately, sometimes with the beans in “caldo”, a separate bowl, maybe with a hard boiled egg or boiled plantain.

Cafecito– If you’ve had lunch, and it’s any time before maybe 6:00, and a Costa Rican asks you if you want coffee, they aren’t actually asking if you want coffee.  They are asking you to sit with them and have something to eat.  It’s traditional to have a  cup or coffee, or maybe tea, but that’s optional.  My family seemed really confused the first afternoon when I turned down the coffee offer in the afternoon.  I didn’t realize that I was skipping a meal.  Also, if you’re not hungry, but you’re home, it’s a time to sit down together and catch up for a few minutes before going back to whatever you had been doing.

At my house, the food with the cafecito is generally something small, maybe some bread with hummus or cheese, or some crackers.  I will admit that I’ve been meeting my co-chaperone at a cafe in the afternoons quite often, so in that case we will enjoy something from the pastry counter. 🙂

Dinner: This tends to be later at night, and can even be right before bedtime.  Out in Guanacaste, the family ate dinner at 9 and was generally in bed by 10.  For those who eat a bigger lunch, dinner will be lighter.  Maybe a sandwich or some leftovers from lunch.  If you have a ligher lunch, or skipped it, then you’d have something more.  Pinto comes back, of course, along with meat of some kind or chicharrones, or a picadillo.

Snacks: There’s not a lot of snacking that I see, at least in my house.  People seem to eat at those scheduled times of the day, but not at other times, and there’s just not a lot of snack food around.  I have noticed that there are a lot of street vendors that sell fried chicharrones, plantains, yuca, or potatoes at the after-work bus stops, so that’s where the snacking seems to be done.  Another thing is that a lot of people get soft serve or something from a fast food place.  I will go into more details about that in a future post.

So far I have been really enjoying the food!  I do feel like eating more at scheduled mealtimes, especially if it’s whole foods, and not processed foods, and doing less mindless snacking has been good for me.  And luckily, I like rice and beans a whole lot.

This is a mamón chino

I like it a lot, except that the amount of fruit that you get with each one is a disappointment. First you peel the skin, then there’s a white fruit inside, but inside that there is a giant seed too.