Thursday, April 26, 2012

Last Days in La Lucha

On Monday I woke up at 5am hurting from all of Sunday's festivities. Why 5am you might ask? Lately I've encouraged my friend Adelita to start walking in the mornings, and when she came to my party on Sunday I made her a drunken promise that, somehow, I managed to remember to keep. Despite the raging headache, walking that time of day is beautiful. It's when the birds are most active, when the weather is brisk and the clouds hang low beneath the mountains. It's the time of day that reminds me most of how beautiful a place La Lucha is, and how much I'll miss it.

La Lucha in the early morning
Turco and Adelita

Later that afternoon I got a call from Helbert, and in a very serious voice asked me to come over to the Rancho. I thought that there may have been an incident after I'd left the night before, or that I'd forgotten to pay part of my tab, so I hustled over there to find all my ALA students waiting for me with a big banner with "We'll miss you!" written on it, a plate of hamburgers and a cake. It was a really, really thoughtful gesture on their part, and the food was delicious and it was really fun to spend one last afternoon with all of them.

From there I went directly to my last A.D.I. meeting. I donated my old laptop to the A.D.I., which will be kept at Carlos Avila's house, and then hung around the Salon Comunal for a Comite Tutelar meeting. As people began to trickle in for the meeting, I noticed they weren't carrying their usual notepads and pens. First there were plates of food, then Dago and Freyvin (an incredibly Tico name) arrived with an accordion and a guitar, then Helbert with a giant grill and a bag of meat, and lastly Idiani with a cake. Soon the music started, and I was serenaded with special despedida songs, usually meant for a man or women soon to be married, but sung for me as a different kind of send-off. Doña Daisy, the current A.D.I. president, started the speeches, and gave me a plaque (see below) and then other people stood up and said some really nice things about me. Even my host niece, Jennifer, who I thought didn't even like me, was complimentary. It was a really amazing party, and I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who helped put it on, and for being such wonderful, generous friends.

Farewell cake
Being serenaded...
Doña Daisy and me
My plaque from the A.D.I. and Comite Tutelar
Carlos Avila and Helbert Morales

The following day I had to head down to Ciudad Neily for a Peace Corps meeting. When I came back in the late afternoon I started going house by house saying my final thank yous and goodbyes. In every house I ate food, or was offered a beer, so by the time I finished I was both incredibly full and slightly drunk.  I went over to Wilfrido and Yadira's for a pre-dinner dinner, which included more booze, and then home for my last meal en casa. Finally, I headed over to the Rancho where Helbert, Juan and Norberto were waiting for me. We drank a little more and talked for a couple hours about how fast the 2 years had passed, recounted some of the funnier anecdotes, and called it a night. The drinks, of course, were on the house. The following morning Juan dropped me off in San Vito on the way to work at ICE. I ate my last gallo pinto at Soda Emaus, and got in a Peace Corps vehicle headed for San Jose.

Parting shot: Helbert and Norberto Morales @ El Rancho 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Farewell Party

Yesterday was my farewell party at the Rancho. I arrived at noon to help with some last minute preparations, but as per usual just ended up watching soccer and drinking.  Starting around 4pm, braving a serious aguacero (thunderstorm), my friends began to arrive. We served pork with rice, tortillas and ceviche de banano with a fresco, but most guests went straight for the beer and liquor, which was good. I was flattered by the amount of people that showed up--a really nice mix of people of all ages, and from neighboring towns too, like Mellizas, Progreso and Esmeraldas. At dinner I said a few words, thanking everyone for making me feel at home for the past two years, and promising that I'd return soon, and then we broke out the karaoke. I sang Under the Boardwalk by the Drifters, and then a duet with Yaricel (Juanes' Fotografia). My host niece Jennifer even helped out with the chorus. After the karaoke there was dancing and the the crowd slimmed to just the younger folks, but the party continued to rage well into the night. I'm eternally grateful to Helbert and Norberto Morales, who helped me pull the whole thing off, and for everyone who came out to the party. I couldn't have imagined a better send-off.

Some of the first arrivals, braving the storm
Rancho La Amistad
Norberto sings karaoke
My two favorites from the colegio nocturno, Ania and Mayela
Blanca (purple) celebrated her birthday at the Rancho
Ruben and me
Late night crowd
Stiben being a good friend

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Pig

This morning I woke up at 5:30 and drove with Norberto in his brother's '69 Land Rover up to La Aurora where I bought a pig to slaughter for my despedida, or going away party. The pig weighed 60 kilos (132lbs), and as you can see from the photo below, she didn't like being weighed one bit. We took her back to Helbert's, where we kept it in the back of the truck while we got a fire started and built a frame from which to hang her once she'd been killed. When Helbert arrived we tied up the pig and held her steady, and then Helbert delievered a powerful blow with the blunt end of an ax to the back of it's head. The pig fell to the ground and I came in with a knife and stabbed it through the heart. It was quick and clean. After skinning it, we tied it upside down from the frame in order to drain it of blood/fluids, and it was cut up. When the heart was removed there was a slit going through the middle of it that I'd made with the knife, which meant, essentially, that it was a direct hit. This earned me a lot of street cred from some of the town elders, who had come to watch the spectacle. We fried up some chicharrones (pork skins) and drank a few beers in the afternoon, but the vast majority of the pork will be eaten tomorrow during the party. 

Getting weighed --60 kilos
Blood-stained thumbs up
Butchering the pig
Baby Elisa w/ bottle of Cortez

I'd been dreading this moment since I first confirmed with Helbert that I wanted to kill a pig for my going away party, but it was an experience I wanted to have--one that is not only quintessentially Costa Rican but also pretty bad ass. I don't regret doing it, and I am pleased at how little the pig seemed to have suffered. I won't pinpoint today as the day I became a vegetarian, but I don't see myself killing many more pigs either...  

Before & After


There is very little a Tico won't do for a certificate. I made the mistake last year, when I offered a free English class in town, of telling my students I couldn't offer them a certificate. Three weeks later I had no students. So a few weeks ago I started some environmental leadership charlas in the high school (topics included biodiversity, climate change, water conservation, etc.), and I was not going to make the same mistake twice. Although I had no official certificate to give, I opened up Microsoft Word and went to work on creating my own. The end result looked surprisingly official, and my students loved them. We celebrated the completion of the course with pizzas and sodas at Rancho La Amistad, which was a great time. It was a really nice group to work with and we had a lot of fun.

Me with all the ALA kids
Students w/ their certificates
Las guilas de ALA (Alianza de Liderazgo Ambiental)
L-R: Jairo, Dorian, Grace, Laura, Andres, Laura, Jordano,
Fabricio, Jealline, Roxana and Luis (not pictured: Nacho)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Last Hoorah in San Jose

Hey y'all, I just spent nearly a week in San Jose getting my final medical/dental appointments and welcoming the newest generation of volunteers, TICO 23, to Costa Rica. I also met up with my next-door neighbor, Carlos Avila, at Teletica (the national news channel) and dropped off some photos I took of our road, which is in desperate need of repairs before the winter rains. Hopefully they'll do a story on the condition of the road and provoke a response from the government, which up until now has ignored our efforts to get it fixed. While in the Teletica office I briefly met both Jose Ignacio, the head anchor of Telenoticias and host of Costa Rica's ¿Quien Quiere Ser Millonario? (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and (my personal favorite) Eduardo Silva, host of Buen Dia, Pequeños Gigantes, Bailando por un Sueño, etc. On Friday I made my last trip up to San Juan Sur, my training community, to attend an RCD party for all our former host families. The party was a lot of fun, and afterwards I took my family, Tyler's family and Henley's family out for pizza. 

Current conditions on Ruta 613
RCD Family Party
My host family + Daryl
Over the weekend VAC hosted their annual VACtail, a big party disguised as a PCV networking event.  It was nice to see a bunch of volunteers in one place and say some goodbyes, and meet the newly arrived ones.  One of the new volunteers is a friend from UNC, so it was nice to see her before I take off. I ended up skipping the organized event to go out to dinner with David and Sarah Medrano, but met up with everyone afterward at Bahama Bar, which was a really good time. The next day a few of us headed over to TEFL Program Manager Kevin Brown's apartment where we grilled fresh shrimp from Isla Chira and passed a relaxing afternoon around the dining room table listening to old records and hanging out. The next day we went to watch the National Championship at Time-Out Tavern, which was really fun despite the Heels not winning (or for that matter playing) in it. Kevin is a UK alum so it was fun to see his team win. We even prepared a UKake (UK + cake) to celebrate. Total respect to Kevin for letting us crash his wonderful apartment in Escazu! 

David and Beth Dove dry out after a run in Escazu
Grilled Isla Chira shrimp in teriyaki sauce
Kevin & his UKake

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ken Ferrell: LatiNOTES reader of the month

Iowa native Ken Ferrell is the first person to 1) cite my blog in an actual conversation, 2) quote my blog back to me, the author, and 3) recognize a shirt from a picture on the blog. For these reasons, LatiNOTES first ever Reader of the Month award goes to Ken Ferrell. Ken is also a prolific blogger in his own right. Check him out at  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sacando la Pega

Three times during my 2-year service I've suffered (to use the phrase from the Romney dog scandal) gastric distress. My host family, who is old-school, like to treat this condition themselves with a procedure they like to call sacando la pega or "removing the clot." This treatment entails applying baby oil to the forearm at the elbow, the sides of the neck, the ball of the foot, and the backs of the knees and vigorously massaging the area in a downward motion. It's believed that these specific areas of the body correspond to the bowel, and that clearing these areas will relieve one's digestive issues. This is followed, some hours later, with the same downward massage applied to the stomach (a direct hit, so to speak), at which point the issue should soon resolve itself. With a mere 5 weeks left in Costa Rica I realized that this will probably be the last time I take part in this truly Costa Rican medicinal tradition, and that I should document it in some form or another.