Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Good Bye Weeds and Banana Update!

One of the first jobs that Roberto did for us was to chop down all the King Grass which is a weed that grows 8 - 10 feet high and is very invasive.  The weeds surrounded the area where we are planning to build and needed to be removed so we can terrace and plant another type of grass that grows only a foot or so high but has very long roots.  These plants help to prevent erosion which can be a problem here in the rainy season. Once Roberto had cut down the weeds with his machete, Don & I pulled them to the top to create a pile for burning.  Can you see him way down the steep hill?  He is tying--much too large--bunches of weeds together so I can pull---or at least try to pull---them to the top of the hill.  I also did some tying but my piles were smaller and easier to haul up!!  By the end of the day we were both very pooped and ready for a shower!

I'm not sure which job was more difficult.  The hill side is so steep it is almost impossible to stand there without feeling like you are going to topple over.  On the other hand, pulling the huge piles of weeds to the top is exhausting!  The bright side of the whole project is it works on those flabby underarms we seem to have as we get older!!

Finally the weeds are all gone on this hillside.

And.....this is the pile of weeds for that day.  The pile has since grown and we were supposed to burn today but I haven't heard from Don since he left for the property at about 5:45 a.m.  I had a number of things to do before leaving for Denver on Friday so I stayed home and planned to walk down when the burning was to begin!  The wind has picked up a little and burning may be another day.

Fortunately, no one has decided to pick our bananas because we are not there!!

They are growing and we check them every time we go to the property.  Sorry about the sideways shot but it is still a pretty good view of how they look.

We are waiting for them to fatten up a little more so we can pick them.  Hopefully they will wait until I return!!

We wish the picture was a little better!  The man who has the coffee farm next to us and is also our neighbor where we are renting is loading his vehicle with bags of coffee and, if you look closely, you can see a beautiful bunch of bananas on the top.  A couple of his pickers a waiting for him to leave and then will head down through the coffee to their home on foot.  The day we watched he put over a dozen huge bags of coffee in the back of that Toyota Land Cruiser!

Bits of Berlin!

At one time we had thought of purchasing this pickers shack along with enough property to traverse with our power lines.  At this point we feel the asking price is far more that the advantage we would receive.  We had even considered fixing up the building and living in it while our home was being built.  

We have recently talked with a builder and are going to build our garage and studio first and live there.  On the 3rd of January Don is meeting with an architect to discuss the plans we have created and get bids from both he and the builder.  We are also going to look for other bids and other people before we make our final decision on who will be doing the work.  Also, we need to hire a backhoe to move some earth and work on our driveway.  Once that is done, we will put 2 strips of concrete with gravel in between to create a road that the large vehicles required in the building process will be able to travel.  For this job we are also getting bids which is a slow process when most of the people you need to do the work speak only Spanish!  Although, we are working on our Spanish, that too is a very slow process!

Elian and his Uncle Dario came to the property with us one day last week to meet with ICE.  Dario was going to translate, however, we never actually saw ICE.  After waiting a number of hours we left for home but, it is our understanding that ICE did show up to look at our situation.  Elian is pushing the machete down into the ground where we have a little problem with the ground not being solid on the edge of where it was graded.  Just to the left of Elian are our Banana Trees which are still growing!

Machetes are so common here.  Everyone has at least one.  Since arriving we have purchased two--one for us and one for Roberto.  Roberto is much more talented with his!!

Rolando is a friend we met when we stayed here last time with Chavarria's.  He is quite a worker for a number of people around town and walks everywhere, including to the near by towns.  

He and Don have a "special" relationship and when Rolando walks by he will stop looking for a meal and lots of coffee with mounds of sugar!

The dog's name is Perro which means dog in Spanish.  She is very sweet and always comes out to greet us when we walk by.  There are dogs everywhere here and many of them are shy of strangers.  Our least favorite are the ones that bark when we want to sleep!

The sunsets here are spectacular and we only wish we could capture the beauty in our photographs!  We will keep trying!

Municipal Water and ICE the Power Company of Costa Rica

Not too far from our property is this new Municipal well where our water comes from.

The President of Costa Rica came to Berlin to dedicate this well to the people of Berlin,

Meet ICE the Government Power Company!

While in San Ramon the other day we topped to watch ICE working at a new business in town.  This is ICE.  You've heard us talking about our need to get electricity on our property and ICE is the government electric company which has the power to say  "nay" or "yay"!  After a number of trips to ICE and officially presenting a letter of request for service with the help of our friend Josee, we have finally received notice that ICE is willing and able to bring power to our property!  And....the letters were sent in both English and Spanish which was greatly appreciated!

It seems we should be thrilled, right!  Unfortunately, we still have no idea the cost of this precious commodity.  The letter advises us to find qualified people to put in the poles and wire and something about an environmental study.  The one bid we have received was to use an easement across our neighbors property.  At one time Gilberto, our neighbor, was agreeable, however, the law has changed and now that ICE will own 11 feet each side of the line the offer is no longer available!  So...we now are in the process of finding how much it will cost to go down the road to our property but do not expect to accomplish too much in the next couple weeks.  Christmas is a holiday for just about everyone here and it's not just Christmas day.  The day before and Christmas day are official paid holidays and many businesses shut down for two weeks!!  

Thanks to many hours of digging trenches and burying pipe by Don and Roberto, our employee, we now have water to the Cistern on our property.  This has allowed us to spray the weeds---and hopefully kill them!  Don is now at the property and I'm waiting for a call to go down to burn all the weeds we have dragged up the hills and piled at our homesite.

Coffee and More Coffee!

 Since our arrival here at the end of October the harvesting of coffee has mushroomed!  Earlier we showed photos of coffee on the vines and now we will share what happens next.  Berlin is a coffee mecca and daily we are amazed at the amount of coffee that gets picked and leaves this hilltop for the processors.

Each day as picking comes to an end and bags of coffee are loaded into the vehicles available to go to the Receiver.  The pickers are paid by the basket and the farmer is paid by the Fenaga which is measured at the Receiver.  There are also some coffee growers

who bring their coffee to the Receiver in a vehicle with very high sides and a "spout"  (not sure what it is really called) in the back.  The advantage of this type of truck is that the coffee does not need to be bagged and is just shoveled into the measuring devise at the Receiver.  The shovel is huge and reminds us of a coal shovel from our childhood.

The Receiver opens later in the day until after dark and as we walk by there this is what we see.  The pickers and the trucks laden with coffee line up to be emptied into the Receiver.  The process is very organized and everyone is very patient and content waiting for their turn to unload.  When it is time to load the coffee into the Receiver, everyone pitches in and the job is completed quite  smoothly.

The blue truck here in the back is one that   does not require the coffee to be bagged. The vehicles of choice for working coffee farms here in Costa Rica are the Toyota Land Cruiser or /Toyota Hilux which is made specifically for Costa Rica.  These vehicles are strong enough to carry many pounds of coffee up and down the many steep gravel and paved roads of the area.  Many of these vehicles are quite old but just keep on working!

As the Receivers are filled they are loaded into these huge trucks.  All day and into the evening these trucks arrive empty and head back to town full of the berrys that have been picked that day.  The trucks are powerful and very heavy and when they pass by our casa at a good clip our house feels like we are in the middle of an earthquake!  
Once the berries leave Berlin and head to the processor we are not sure what happens next!  Finding that out is on our list of things to do but there are more important issuses to deal with first.  Once we know the next steps we promise to share them with all of you!

Feliz Navidad!

To add a little Christmas spirit to our casa we brought Cedar like branches from our property so I could create a wreath.

The wreath was such a success that our landlord, Roselin, wanted to make one for herself, which we did!  It felt great to have an opportunity to be creative and add a little Christmas cheer!
Our first Christmas in Costa Rica was quiet and full of many wonderful SKYPE conversations with family and friends.  Chirstmas Eve we enjoyed a wonderful meal and festivities with friends here.  Before we made and ate many Tamales a Navidad tradition here in Costa Rica.  Christmas here is about families and friends and the making of Tamales is part of the family experience.

One day I arrived at Flor's Soda at 8:00 a.m. to help the family make Tamales.  There were a number of family and friends their to help and the young people were amazing workers.  We worked until late afternoon creating over 300 Tamales!  Flor generously sent home a bunch with me which are sitting in our freezer just waiting to be enjoyed!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pipes to Pedicures!

Today Don and I went separate ways.  I to get my toenails beautified while Don dug in the dirt and laid pipe for water at the finca.  Needless to say my day was a lot easier than Don's.  In the photo you can see my toes that are being painted by Damaris at Danillo and Maria's Super.  They have a very nice deck with games and a wonderful view.  Amanda, Damaris's little girl, is in the background painting her cousin's toenails.  She is adorable and very independent!

Once the pedicure was complete we visited Maribel at her house for a short while until the 6 of the boarded the bus to head back home and I walked to my casa just down the road.  I shared some cookies and actually had a very easy, laid back day!

Don on the other hand has made at least one trip to Palmares for parts and has kept very busy digging and laying pipe.  Guess I'll go check out the handiwork and do some more blogging another day!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The View is Ever Changing!

The sunsets here are wonderful and are different every night! The photo below shows the window we look out to watch the wonder before us.  You will notice the Spanish/English Book on the stool and, of course, our twinkle lights which were a big hit when we first put them up!

Poco Poco!

Poco Poco is a phrase that is used here often.  The gist of it is "little by little", and it describes perfectly the progress we are making in most areas.  Our biggest success so far is getting a phone line and a phone allowing us to increase our Internet speed and have WIFI in our house!  We were amazed that it happened in the same week that Marcella took us to ICE and requested the service!

Unfortunately, the acquiring of electricity for the property has not moved quite so quickly.  We have talked to some electricians who install for ICE, to ICE and to just about anyone who will listen.  Let's see.....has it been 3 or 4 trips to ICE so far, and still nothing definite.  The private electrician gave us a price but it was with easement across our neighbors property.  Unfortunately, the law has changed and, if Gilberto, our neighbor, gave us an easement ICE would own 11 meters of Gilberto's property on each side of the power line.  Gilberto said, "Sorry, but no easement!"  We are now back to going the long route down the road which is longer and will cost more $$.

The good news, however, is that we have purchased our water meter.  Upon arriving we were told that it would be $2,000!  Fortunately, after much discussion and research it ended up being $300.  Most people pay $200--Welcome to Costa Rica!

 Friday we are going to learn how to make Costa Rican Hamburgers--which are delicious---at Flor's Soda!  As my attempt to make tortillas was pretty much a bust, I also need a tortilla lesson!

The other major time consuming project in our life is trying to purchase a vehicle.  At this point we have decided to look for a SUV and use a trailer to deliver the coffee to the Receiver when it has been picked.  The rest of the year a SUV is much more practical for our needs.  Finding one is an adventure in itself,  Mostly, we are looking for Hyundai Gallopers and Mitsubishi Monteros because they are very common here, are easy to get parts and repairs and have the power we need to work the Coffee Farm and go up and down the roads here. The roads are steep and often our driveway and road. Definitely 4 wheel drive!!
First off, we don't speak Spanish so most phone calls we make are at a dead end!  As we have only the bus for transportation, we do not want to make too many trips to look at cars.  Most are not near by and would require an overnight stay!  And....if we did get there, we can't even ask questions or negotiate--language again!  We have had friends make calls for us but we really don't like taking advantage.  There are many of these vehicles for sale!!  It is becoming more and more necessary that we have a vehicle so.....we will keep on looking!!

Saturday we went to Bingo at the "Berlin Center".  We arrived at 3:00 ready to practice our Spanish numbers and win a little Bingo!!  Well....we all sat there until about 4:30 before anything happened.  We are truly amazed at the patience of Ticos!  In  the states there would have been a riot if an event started 1 1/2 hours late!   Finally, Bingo started and one and all were placing their kernels of corn to win a prize!  We quickly discovered that our wish to practice Spanish was flawed.  We couldn't understand hardly any of the numbers that were called out!!   And we thought we might have a chance as we had studied numbers!  Fortunately, Dario was there and translated.  How embarassing!!  We didn't win but did get a ride home--thank you, Dario!
Because it is now picking season, there are many transients in the area here to work.  The street was packed with unfamiliar faces and we were glad to be in our little casa.  There are no law enforcement personnel in Berlin and as we left the area, it appeared to us that things could get a little crazy!

More Fruits of Costa Rica!

We love all the fruits here in Costa Rica.  There are many and we are love sampling new ones even though we hardly ever remember the name. We have discovered the Mora Berry which resembles a black berry but is much smaller.  They make a jam and a Fresca (fruit juice) using the Mora Berry and I love them in Smoothies.   They grow along the roadside here.  When we first arrived our neighbor, Jose Carlos, brought us a cupful. Yummm!

In these pictures you are looking at a few of the citrus trees that are growing among our coffee plants. Some of them are very sweet and juicy and some are very sour and bitter!  We are not sure the specific names of any of them, but there all types of oranges, lemons, limes and various combinations of the varieties.  While at the property, we will pick one and try it.  If it tastes good, we pick a bunch and bring them home.  As we have shown you in our earlier blogs, we also have bananas on our property which are doing well.  When they are closer to picking, we will post more photos!

This is how Papayas grow!  O.K. so I should have known but I didn't have a clue! We came across this tree in front of a house in San Ramon!  Now we want to plant some of these.  Yummmmm!   Papaya's are very reasonable to purchase here.  If we get them off the truck that comes by the house, we can get 3 for 1,000 colonies which is $2.00.  The other day we bought 3 Pinas (Pineapples) for 1,000 colonies.  They were delecious!  Everyone tells us that Papayas are very good for digestion.  What have we got to lose!  We love all the different fruits that are available and eat them just the way they are!  Ticos, however, eat very little fruit and juice all their fruit into Fresca.  The typical meal here is called a Cassada.  When you order one at a Soda or Restaurant it usually comes with a Fresca.  Unfortunately, they like to add lots of azucar (sugar) which makes them pretty sweet!!!

The Cafe Finca & More

Don is checking out the coffee berries that are needing to be picked.

We have discovered that we have at least two different kinds of coffee. Red and Yellow and we understand the Red is the most desirable.  Starbucks is big in Costa Rica and "doing a lot for the coffee industry".  It's always a question about motives when a large corporation is interested in the little guy!

 The coffee is actually beautiful and when you bite into a red berry it is very sweet and juicy.  Go figure!  At the present, our coffee worker is pulling vines off the coffee that have been allowed to grow, and cutting back the tall weeds which needed to be removed.  Now that Roberto has cut the weeds down, we need to burn them and apply something like Roundup only less toxic. This will  kill the weeds so we can replant.  Because of the erosion here and the hilly nature of our property, we need to plant a special plant that doesn't grow very high but has very deep roots.  To us the work that needs to be done is insurmountable.  However, Roberto, our Coffee Worker, plugs away 6 days a week and is slowly making progress.  Today Don is down at the Finca helping which is why I have time to blog.  For some time, our computer has been used, almost non stop, to find a vehicle.  Unsuccessfully so far!  The task here is complicated by language, no transportation, long distances, and things specific to Costa Rica.  For instance, any tickets against the vehicle become yours once you purchase the car and other oddities.  Again, we are visiting our attorney for all the specifics and how to avoid major problems.   Upon transfer of title, an attorney is required and the fee is about $300 depending on the price of the vehicle.
This year our Coffee crop belongs to Danillo. He is the one who did all the fertilizing, pruning and taking care of the Coffee during the previous growing season.  Next year the crop will be ours!  Unfortunately, this year we are having to invest quite a bit in labor, supplies and, of course, the fertilizers and pesticides that are required.  So far we have purchased 2 Machetes, 1 Bamba (Sprayer), 2 Pelles (Shovels) and miscellaneous other items which still sit in our house.  Not having a vehicle is a real hindrance to being a Coffee Farmer!

Sunday was my birthday and this is a photo of a very large chocolate covered marshmallow sucker that Elian, our little neighbor and landlord, brought me for my birthday!  I was overwhelmed by all the birthday wishes on line and locally.  Thank you everyone!
The day ended up being very special!  Friends, Meli & Jim, who we met 6 years ago when we purchased our property arrived to help us talk with our Coffee Worker.  Meli is Tica and, of course, speaks Spanish very well.  Jim is from the US and the combination works very well for us and Roberto!  As they were translating for us, we invited them for dinner and they arrived with wine, a knife (to be explained below) and Jim's guitar.  We ate, sang, danced and told stories and fun was had by all!

Now an explaination of the "Knife" gift!  The day before my birthday, Marcella and Roselina, her mother, were at the house to learn how to make yeast bread. I had made a loaf and shared it. They loved it and asked if I would teach them how to make some.  We were also having a little knitting lesson while the bread was rising and, of course, working on communicating!  Jim and Meli arrived and joined in the fun and added more excitement and a little Spanish lesson along with bread making and knitting.   Once the bread was completed, we needed to test the results and my knife just would not cooperate!!  And that is the story of why Jim and Meli gave me a wonderful knife that cuts bread perfectly for my birthday.   Thank you again Jim & Meli!!