Friday, 13 December 2013

Hi, I'm an Australian lady...

Such are the subtleties of language, the slightest inflection or letter can alter the meaning.

My Spanish extends no further than a traditional Brit abroad - "por favor", "gracias" and of course "cerveza". So it was with some (in)trepidation that my friend James and I approached our home stay with a Costa Rican family, tucked away in the mountain village of Mollejones. 

Not that we had much time for nerves or trepidation before our arrival. In the telling of this story I've jumped ahead a few days from the start taking you to the day of a 65 km cycling 'epic'. Epic in the bad sense, oh yes it's probably a good thing my Spanish is basic, lest a tirade of Iberian cursing pierce this most tranquil community.

I don't know if you've ever ridden up a mountain in heat and humidity? If you have, you'll understand those moments of pain that shoot through your legs with every turn of the pedal that propels you but an inch a time.
"We're all broken inside"
Suppose you have conquered such a climb, enjoyed the pause at the top, snap the group with forced smiles - we're loving this honestly - a banana perhaps and then the freefall downhill to reach the valley below. Maybe you have called it a day, rested your buttocks on something more comfortable than a razor seat?

For us, it was merely a warm up for the next climb to our midday restaurant. Those shots of pain giving way to more psychological challenges. The inner child defiance ('I don't want to play anymore'), the knowledge of the hours ahead with little prospect of comfort of a hotel at the end. 

Instead there was the prospect an evening of awkward British politeness in the company of a family to whom Mr Bean is most likely found on a menu with Mrs Rice.

Actually, thank goodness then for lunch. Yes there was beans and rice, of the most nourishing kind, accompanied by the sort of vista that makes you realise that the value of a reward is intrinsically linked to the effort you put in. 

I earned this view.

It was here that one of the Australian contingent, Kate, tried to teach me some basic Spanish so that I could at least introduce myself. "Me llamo Tom, soy un Australiana' (we were sure the English / Aussie difference wouldn't be noticeable). Alas, apparently I should have said Australiano, much to Kate's amusement, and that of the group as the word spread that perhaps I secretly spent my weekends known as Priscilla. Oh yes, when a few days later our raft was dubbed 'the girls raft' for no other reason than a lost splash fight, it was noted that I was indeed an Australian lady.

Cross dressing aside, I could have happily settled down with a cerveza and watched the hummingbirds feed on nectar. - pigeons simply don't have the same grace around my bird table at home. 

But no, there was one more climb to go. There wasn't even the assurance that this was an easy climb. In fact, this was set to be the hardest climb of the lot. Off road, never ending beast of hill.

Growing up in Cambridge - the flatest city in England where the only hill was our school playing field conveniently used by the teachers for cross-country - everyone had a mountain bike. This particular afternoon I was finally introduced to the terrain a mountain bike was built for.

I'm afraid these photos don't do justice to the brutality of this climb. Here's just a short stretch above and below. Take me on trust that around both corners lay hell for all those who seek only leisure from two wheels.

I'm going to leave this story here for now, the final mile is a story in its own right.

One thing I did learn though, applicable as much to gardening and life in general is that you can be faced with tasks of endurance, where the challenge appears never ending, where you fall, get up, fall, get up fall, stay down, you feel physical and emotionally broken, but when you get to the top the truth is you, once you get over the humbling sensation of what you've achieved...'ll think of every lazy person you've ever known, and feel one very smug *******

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Tales from Costa Rica: #1 Why did the sloth cross the road?

See Tales from Costa Rica page for more

Sloths have a bad name and it's not deserved. 

Meet Tico the Costa Rican sloth:

You may well ask yourself what a sloth has to do with gardening, and I'm sure I'll have found a tenuous link before this post is out, but just pause for a moment and reflect on your perception of a sloth...

Slow? Yes. Lazy? Almost certainly. On benefits? Without a doubt. 

I'd barely started my adventure when a small group of us came across this curious character. Had it not been for Don's chain snapping within seconds of leaving our starting point we would have missed this charming fellow.

Indeed, I would have missed him anyway had Karen not screamed 'Sloooooooooooooth' causing us all to stop, take a break and a photo (I soon discovered this wouldn't be the last time I'd have to take a break on the bike...).

Most sloths hang from trees in a little bundle. However, this go-getter decided the time was right to see if the grass, or possibly trees, were greener on the other side. He looked left, he looked right, he waited for a car to go past. Time to cross? Not just yet, got to pose for the tourists taking photos first.

It got me thinking, what would you do in this situation? Me, I took photos of the charmer with the intention of getting back on my bike and continuing my adventure. The old Costa Rican lady with a walking stick in the back of a car that pulled up, and Vito with a stick pulled from a tree, had other ideas.

Before my eyes, I saw the locals carefully place a stick under the front legs and one under the hind legs, lift and cart this pampered pretend primate from one side of the road into the long grass on the other where it made like Usain Bolt on sedatives to its new home. I was so stunned and it happened so quickly I forgot to capture the moment.

Unfortunately for those whose chains didn't snap, this top sighting passed them by. Juan Carlos was like a patient parent to the cries of 'when are we going to see a sloth', every day until the final day - the day he said we'd see one. We'd be crawling up hills - 'do sloths hang out here?' and racing down mountains 'was that a sloth? Crash. No.

But thankfully I had this thrilling video to keep them happy until the next sloth sighting. 

Three garden-related things struck me about my sloth experience. 

Firstly that if you don't keep your eyes open you'll miss more than you could possibly realise. It's hard sometimes, but I think the same applies to the garden. Often, I'll get totally caught up in weeding that I'll miss the cat leaving a parcel in the veg bed behind me. Or it might be a new bird quietly checking out the food on the bird table.

Secondly, that the famed Costa Rican care for their natural world was evident in the simplest of gestures. Next time I'm rushing for work, no harm in taking a bit longer to soak some bread and leave it out for the birds, or to put some slug pellets down (you know, to help the plants...).

And finally, that it's ok to be a sloth. Sure the garden may not stay as neat and tidy, but things will take care of themselves. And when you're as good looking as this, what's the rush?

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

My photo
I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.