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Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Night of the Refrigerators" or "THe ICE groberMAN COMETH!"





Yelapa February 13, 2016

Well it’s been a pretty uneventful week here in Yelapa, with just one ant attack and an event we’ve dubbed the “Night of the Refrigerata” – much like the movie  “Night of the Iguana” with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor that was filmed a few miles from here.  

It began with a loud “clunk” in the middle of the night.  The next morning the fridge seemed a bit warmer, but the light went on when you opened the door, and there was still a humming sound coming from it.  By the next day the butter had melted and the mils was sour…. Something was obviously wrong. 

I figured we’d be without a fridge for several days until Luis, our absentee landlord, could get a repairman from Puerto Vallarta to come and look at it, so I was surprised when I was told there was an actual repairman living right here in Yelapa.   Not only did he reside here, he showed up twenty minutes later – huffing and puffing up the hill to our casa.  After a short rest he put his hands on the fridge like a faith healer and pronounced it broken.  I told him I could have saved him a trip.  He didn’t have the part he needed to fix it.  The part, unlike him resided in Puerto Vallarta. Since it was a fiesta weekend it would be at least five days until he returned to fix it.  Until then we’d have to haul bags of ice up from the village each day and put them in the fridge. 

Five days and many bags of ice later the guy showed up with the part.  It definitely wasn’t the manufacturer’s specified part as there was much cutting, hammering and drilling to install it – but sure enough, an hour later the fridge was working. You can be sure if the manufacturer’s warranty hadn’t expired it was definitely violated.

And  miracle of miracles, it worked well….   For four days…  when there was another loud “clunk.”  Needless to say I wasn’t happy with the turn of events.  I intimated to Angel, our landlord’s father, who lives in the casa below us that we were “definitely unhappy” and perhaps the last month’s rent (which I had wisely held back) might not be forthcoming.

Angel told me the  Yelapa repairman was out of town and wouldn’t be back for several days.  He also intimated that it wasn’t the first or second time the fridge had gone on the fritz declaring it a piece of “basura” (garbage).  He continued to say they were tired of paying good money after bad to have it continually fixed.  I told him that it was their problem and I wanted a working fridge now… or else! 

Less than twenty minutes after my ultimatum, Angel returned leading an hombre carrying a large bar fridge on his back.  He looked like a large tortoise slowly working his way up the path with Angel prodding him with a stick.  Evidently this was Angel’s personal beer fridge from his man cave and he wasn’t thrilled about giving it up.  He told me his son had ordered a new fridge from Home Depot in Puerto Vallarta and hopefully it would be delivered to Boka (the closest place to Yelapa the highway goes) and he would go in his little boat and pick it up and bring it to Yelapa.  He would be back later in the day – depending on fishing.  In the meantime we had his beer fridge.
The Yelapa Appliance Showroom

The next morning we were paid a surprise visit by the Yelapa refrigerator repairman who had returned to Yelapa prematurely.   More drilling, hammering and sawing and the fridge was working again so I assumed the new fridge was no longer an option as we now had two operating fridges!   So I was surprised when Angel reappeared with two hombres struggling up the hill with a brand new full size fridge.   We now had THREE fridges in the kitchen.  The new fridge would not be operational for several days as it had to “rest” after its bumpy ocean trip so the house is looking like an appliance showroom – new, used and scratched and dented!  At this point I don’t care…  As long as one of them works for two more weeks.

We were paid another surprise visit by our friends, the army ants.  They’re a bit more of a problem since they march in by the thousands. You can pretty well use half a can of raid trying to force them to retreat…. And then only for so long….  Most evening I patrol around the house after dark looking for signs of an impending invasion so I can launch a pre-emptive chemical attack.  The problem is I gas myself as well most of the time.

My daughter and granddaughters are coming on Monday.  It should be interesting as they’re deathly afraid of “any” bugs…. Wait until they get a load of what’s waiting for them here!

There’s still a lot of controversy over last Friday’s music event.  It appears a woman was upset that she was not “invited” up to perform on the open mike.  The fact that it wasn’t actually an open mike night didn’t seem to matter.  Of course “the Vegan Megans” leapt to her defense - demanding she be allowed to perform her two hour tribute to Joanie Mitchell – “The Lesbian Years.”

Those arguing against pointed out that particular evening had been booked for the three chord CCR Cover band - dubbed by many (seriously) as the “best band to ever play Yelapa.”  Here’s an excerpt of the Facebook Dustup:


Donna Wolper
I' m confused. Is Friday night at Mimi's still an open mic or is it a gig that only allows other musicians' to play when the band says it' your turn? It was always an open mic and everyone was invited. Now it seems that musicians other than the 3/4 regulars have to wait their turn and hope to be 'allowed' to play maybe 3 songs max before being intimated off the stage. Some never even make it up to play and leave. When I heard the comment 'can I play one more song' last night I was pissed. Women singers especially are intimated. Has any woman sang more than 3 songs in a row? This is not the Yelapa way!
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4 people like this.

Sierra Briano I have noticed this also and do not go to Mimis anymore because of it. Sad because there was an awesome woman named Heather there a few weeks ago. She has a fantastic voice and plays piano. She was booted off after 2 songs so the guys could continue their self centeredness.

Laura Petch That is typically how jams work. You have to manage the talent. 10 people on stage creates cacophony.

Bill Weil From Chris: I have been at Mimi's from the start and we have never promoted Mimi's as a totally open mike. We have always invited musicians to come up and play while we are on break. They always had the choice of been accompanied or not. The length of...See More


Cheryl Harleston "You" have never promoted Mimi's as a "totally open mike", Chris?? Well, that's a new one, because last I heard the owner of Mimi's is Mimi, not you, and she's always promoted the OPEN (not "half-open") mike on Friday's…. THAT is precisely her niche, i...See More

Aries Hough News flash: You're not the best band in Yelapa, just the loudest. Musicians should promote other musicians, not just go for the monopoly.

Stephen Anderson I gotta say that we're finding this conversation very amusing. Even here, where there are multiple jam sessions every night, these little conflicts are comment. When it comes to talent, one person's opinion is no better than the next ones. It's purely ...See More

Cheryl Harleston Sounds like a great system, my friend, and totally logical… But I highly doubt they would even want to give it a try at Mimi's… And yes, opinions on talent are totally subjective, but I don't think that's the point here at all… This is not about musici...See More

Donna Wolper This isn't Portland but Yelapa where we allow for anyone who wants to offer their talent. It isn't judged. It s not about quality entertainment, but a venue for anyone to have the opportunity to share their talent. This is Yelapa!
Bottom of Form



I’m not sure what side to come down on this one.  Feel free to wade in.

Speaking of alienating everyone….   As promised…  Here is the article that was published in the Costa Rica national paper, which resulted in death threats…..  

Costa Rica May 2009


Do you know the way IN   San Jose?

By Jeffrey Groberman

I am pleased to have just visited your beautiful country to attend one of your excellent schools to improve my Spanish.  I was most impressed with how progressive Costa Rica is.   It’s political, medical, scientific and educational institutions rival anything we have in Canada.   There is only one area in which San Jose lags behind the rest of world:  Street names.

I was shocked when asking directions to my school that I was told that it is “ 40 meters north of Pops.”
“No, no, I want the number and the street!”  I persisted.
I was told they don’t use street names or numbers.  Everything is done by “land marks.”  If you want to take a taxi somewhere you don’t give him the street number, you tell him what landmarks “it’s near.”

I have travelled all over the world – from the wilds of Papua New Guinea to Whitehorse near the arctic circle:  From Nairobi Kenya to Hanoi in Vietnam – you look up even in the smallest village and you’ll see a street sign.  Even the tiny Pacific Island of Yap where they still use stone money has street signs.

When Neal Armstrong landed on the moon and people asked him where he was, he could tell them exactly   Every crater and every lunar sea, every pot hole has a name.   He wouldn’t have to tell people:
“Hello Houston, this is Tranquility base.  The Eagle has landed.”   We are exactly forty meters north of Pops, just below the man in the moon’s left eyebrow.”  Even if you look up in the sky every star has a given name and a specific address.  It’s not the third star from the left end of the handle of the Big Dipper.

If President Obama wanted to drop in on your President, and called in Secretary Clinton to ask diretions would the conversation be something like:
“Hilary, I’d like to drop in on President Oscar Arias.   Joe says he’s a nice guy and I should meet him.  Where is the Presidential Palace?”
“Well Mr President, you go down the main street until  you get to the big mall.  You can’t miss it.  It’s got a big McDonalds on the corner.   Then you turn right and go till you get to the ChickenFritta, and go about 2 kilometers.   It’s 40 meters north of Pops.”

I brought this up with a lot of my people here and they defended the practice:  “It’s tradition,” they told me.

Well so were cannibalism and slavery and we’ve managed to survive without those.

So I think it’s time that San Jose joins the rest of the world and initiates a program to name or number it’s streets and avenues.  It doesn’t have to be done all at once; it can be done over time.  It can be phased in over a period of years.   It can involve all the people.  They can suggest names to a central committee to provide names for their particular street or avenue. Or it can be worked on a NSEW grid   Streets running NS Avenues EW.
I’ll even help out to get the ball rolling.   How does Groberman Avenue sound?




Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sic Transit Gloria's Bar & A tale of two Jeffs

Sic Transit Gloria's

You’ve heard of the elephants graveyard - the mythical place where elephants are thought to head to when there time on earth is over.  Well it’s a myth.  One thing that isn’t a myth is that Yelapa is the Hippie Graveyard - the place where old hippies go to fade away.  When your in Yelapa there is a sizable population in their sixties who still wear headbands and “some flowers in their hair.”  Except in the case of the guys there isn’t much hair, and the women's’ hair are steel gray and bound in a long single braid.  A bra-less woman is her sixties is nothing to stare lustily at any more.  More like looking directly into the sun then screaming  “I”m blind!”

I met one of these at dinner the other night at Ray’s.  She noticed that I “was of an age” and wanted to know if she had slept with me at Woodstock.  I cagily answered I didn’t remember.
“Whether you slept with me or were at Woodstock?” she asked.
“Both,” I replied.

There is a pecking order for these aging hippies: those who first visited Yelapa B.E. or after B.E.  (Before Electricity).  You don’t even rate if you first visited after electricity came to Yelapa about ten years ago.  The lady beside us bragged that she had first visited Yelapa 35 years ago.
“I came down from the states in an old school bus,” she reminisced.  “Had to leave it at Chacala then take a burro into Yelapa.”
“What did you do with Owsley and the rest of the Merry Pranksters? Leave them on the bus?”  I asked.
“Who?” she asked.

Their discussions of the “Grateful Dead,” are no longer about Jerry Garcia (no relation to the Garcia’s in Yelapa) and the Grateful Dead, but more about their departed friends.  With their disintegrating hips and knees a major trek is now  the few hundred yards to Gloria’s or Mimi’s to  listen to bad Mexican bands attempting to belt out CCR and other sixties hits they think the gringo’s want to listen to.

You have to remember when it comes to the entertainment bandwagon - Yelapa is at the end of the dirt trail.  There is no place further down on the list. A band has to literally be on a police watch list to want to play here.  There are a lot of atrocious bands playing the sleazy bars in Puerto Vallarta that wouldn’t lower themselves to play here.  Hence we have people who wouldn’t even make a high school garage band playing in the few restaurants and bars here.  Last year there was a guy playing the accordion and singing working the bars here.  Not only couldn’t he sing, he couldn’t play the accordion.  I mean he couldn’t literally play three chords on it.  It sounded like a three year old playing a mouth organ.  Still he managed a run of several weeks here.

One of the reasons that musicians manage to last more than three minutes here, besides the fact that pot is  legal here, is the fact that Yelapa’s massive entertainment district is approximately 100 meters in diameter.  In that minuscule area you have Gloria's, The Yacht Club (which has nothing to do with boats or is a club), the Casino (which has no gambling or slot machines of any description) banging out music at full volume from eight in the evening till 3:00am in the morning.  On the weekends you can add the open mike at Mimi’s into the mix.  It's literally impossible to tell one band from the other.  It’s a take no prisoner battle of the bands with no winners.

Friday night is a combination open mike jam session  at Mimi’s.  I was there a few years ago  and it was a mind altering  experience.  When I arrived the “band” consisted of three guitars, a keyboard player, and five, count ‘em, five - guys playing various forms of percussion - from bongos to spoons.

Several of the old hippy types had left their walkers and walking sticks at the table and were up singing - I swear one of them was Janis Joplin.  The music was bad, but seemed to get better with the more beer you drank.  By the end of the evening I was playing along on my beer bottle xylophone.


The funny thing is that in the nine years I’ve been coming here  (I just missed the B.E. badge)I never saw a live band playing local music.   Maybe the guys who run the bars think that all the gringos want to hear is old sixties songs - and judging by the crowd last night at Glorias they might be right.  Sic Transit Gloria’s Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday…..)


In case you've been following I've been including some "Flash back" entries from a time before my blog.   This week's continues my "learning" expedition to Costa Rica.....


Costa Rica May 23, 2009

Three weeks have gone by quickly. School at times was difficult.  I had two teachers: Daisy was quite easy to get along with. Her teaching style was more laid back and often non structured - like attending a college tutorial.  My other teacher, Ilse  (who I dubbed the  she wolf of the SS [Spanish Senioritas])was the complete opposite:  she treated our sessions  more like a trip to the dentist.   It was drill, drill, and more drill.  

During my first week of lessons with Ilse, I attempted to maintain a positive mature attitude – after all I was actually paying for this.   But as the weeks progressed my “inner child” finally won out and I entered into a guerilla war with her.

“Buenos Dias, Jeffrey.” She’d proclaim as she marched into the room.
“No entiendo (I don’t understand)” was my standard reply.
¿Qué no entiendes? “(what don’t you understand?) She’d demand.
“Nada!”  (Nothing)  was my response.
I’d see her eyes dart around the room as she hopefully looked for a pointer or meter stick to whack me with.  Luckily for me all weapons had been removed from the room.

My denial of understanding anything Spanish didn’t deter Ilse as she launch into the days lesson of reflexive verbs, pronouns and vocabulary.

The problem for me when it came to learning Spanish, my brain is divided into two completely separate rooms: 

The first room consisted of “Orderly Jeffrey” who neatly processes all Spanish vocabulary and stores it in clearly labelled easily accessible drawers.  If I need to say anything in Spanish, the Orderly Jeffrey quickly opens the drawers and strings the words together for me to say.  Talking, and  reading aren’t really a problem. [As I read this years later and countless hours of Spanish lessons I realize NOTHING has changed!!]

The problem was in the other part of my brain – the other room- the listening, understanding and translating room.  The Other Jeffrey is not so organized.  Words and bits of phrases are strewn all over the place in no particular order.  When someone speaks to me, it is this “Jeffrey’s” job to try and make sense of it and the only two words this Jeffrey knows for sure is : “No entiendo”

When someone speaks to me in Spanish the spray of words pour into this room and the Other Jeffrey looks on in hopeless confusion.   He might understand the first few words, but then he falls behind.   Much like the famous I love Lucy scene where Lucy tries to keep up with the chocolates on the conveyor belt.

At times, Isle  would get desperate and haul out books of Children’s Nursery Rhymes and hand them to me to read and translate.  One of these was the “Three Little Pigs.” in Spanish.  To avoid translating I would fire back deep philosophical questions to Ilse:

“Why did the Pigs mothers throw them out?  Was she arrested for child abandonment?”
“Why didn’t the pigs just go down the street to the lady who lived in a shoe?   There were only three of them.  Surely she would take them in.”
“Were there no building codes where the pigs lived?”
“The pigs are forever getting building materials from a guy on the road?   Is there no Home Depot?  How did they pay for it?”

When all else failed, I pulled out the religion card: “As a Jew I find this story of eating pigs deeply offensive. If I were a Muslim would you try and make me read this?  I bet not!”

This would be met with a lot of eye rolling and huffing, and stony silence as we entered a waiting contest.  I wouldn’t proceed until my questions were answered, and she waited for me to give up and keep reading in Spanish.  Luckily it was just about recess and I could take the Jeffreys out for donuts.

The following day the nursery rhymes disappeared and a series of children’s games arrives: a version of battleship.  There are two identical units of people’s faces.   Each person picks a card from a deck and asks questions to see who can be the first discover who the character on the opponents card is.   It only took me a few moments to figure out how to cheat and win in only a few questions. I quickly win three games in rapid succession which doesn’t improve Isle’s mood..

The next game she hauls out is a tattered old Scrabble board.  At the end of each game she marks down all the words I created: words like “si” , “no ” “chilli”, “con,” and  “carne”.  These scrabble words were  then coupled with the vocabulary I had learned that week and I was challenged to concoct some long story.   To show me how it was done, Ilse went first and created  a long boring story about her friend who went to a house and borrowed a red dress,  (at that point the “other jeffrey” fell asleep from imbibing too many cervezas the night before).  Finally it is my turn.   This is roughly what I come up with.

(Roughly Translated).  “One day I went to visit my friend Willy, but he wasn’t home.The door was open so I went inside.   I couldn’t find her in the living room.  He wasn’t in the bedroom, or the bathroom.  Finally I looked in the kitchen.  He wasn’t there,  I decided to wait for him and have a beer and chilli con carne.  When I opened the fridge I found a body cut in four pieces……”

(Who would have  thought that the vocabulary from the “Three Little Pigs” would come in handy so quickly…

Isle stopped me there.

Meanwhile in my class with Daisy, she moved our conversations into controversial areas.  What did I think of abortion?   What about gay rights?

I had to stop her and tell her I didn’t think these were subjects I’d be discussing  very often in Spanish.   I was more interested in useful topics like  “Can I get fries with that Hamburger?  and “Excuse me, there is a rat in my room.”

On  Thursday they took me and one other student into San Jose to visit the National Museum, which on the surface,  seemed like a good idea.  After all, they wouldn’t  have to teach me that day.

After being dragged around the museum we finally arrive at  “the ritual area” which has a large display of penises of all shapes, sizes.  Both women seemed a bit uncomfortable around this display  and want to move on to the pottery display.  Sensing their discomfort  I decide to show some interest. 

“¿Qué son estos? “ (What are these?) I ask in a loud voice.

In hushed terms they try to explain (The “other Jeffrey “ missed the bus to the museum, so I don’t have a clue what they’re saying.)

“No entiendo” I reply loudly.

They try again.

“Hablar más alto. No puedo escuchar.” ( speak louder I can’t hear you.)  I respond.
“¿Qué más se les llama?”  (what else are they called?)
and finally, the piece d’resistance (not spanish)
“"¿Dónde van las pilas?" (Where do the batteries go?)

I am quickly ushered from the museum by the two beet red faced teachers and put on a bus home.  Luckily for me there is only one more day of school left.

So did I learn anything useful?  Well when my wife Michele now asks me to do something I  smile and reply:
“No entiendo.”
I just better make sure there are no pointers or rulers nearby


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Steven King meets Harry Potter: Attack of the Killer Ants...

Well it’s been an exciting week here in Yelapa highlighted by the attack of the killer ants.  There are ants and there are ants… and then there’s Yelapa ants. These ants travel in huge columns – like soldiers on the march – devouring everything   (Veni, Vici, Comi” (I came, I saw, I ate)…   and I mean everything in sight.

How scary are they?   Check out this on the internet.

I don’t mind the odd ant or two in the house, but when they are pouring in as if shot out of a garden hose,  it’s downright disconcerting.  Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds?”   Instead of birds imagine ants.  Last Friday night as I was preparing dinner  Michele pointed to the kitchen window. Pouring through a crack in the casement was a torrent of ants – thousands of them.  In the few seconds they marched up the wall towards the ceiling.   The wall which is normally lime green in colour was transformed into a moving sea of black.  

Usually my first response to any life threatening  event is to grab my camera.  I remember when my daughter was three years old.  She was sitting on the kitchen counter dressed in her Hallowe’en outfit when she toppled off the counter and fell head first into a pail of water.  Did I immediately yank her out of the bucket?  Well, in this case I did; but before I did anything else I grabbed my camera.  

A couple of weeks ago when Michele was confronted by a  huge snake did I jump in front of her to protect her?  No.  I ran back for my camera.  But in this case I was so shocked by what I was witnessing I forgot all about my camera and grabbed for the can of RAID, which seemed like using a peashooter against an elephant.

As fast as I could spray them, more came in.  The floor was littered with dead and twitching ants.  After depleting an entire can of raid, Michele and I lacking gas masks,  retreated to the patio.  When we returned twenty minutes later the ants were in full retreat leaving piles of their dead comrades on the floor.  

Michele swept up dustpan full of the carcases while I went outside to see where the ants had gone.  To my dismay they hadn’t retreated back to the jungle.  Instead they were marching down the side of the house to the NEXT window.  Another full can of RAID beat back most of this attack.   The rest of the evening was spent fighting off subsequent invasions.  Luckily they gave up around midnight.  Good thing, though, since I was nearly out of RAID.  The rest of the subsequent evenings have been spent nervously scanning the walls to see if they’ve returned.  Several times a night I’d wake up grab my flashlight and do my own march around the house searching for “scouts.”  Any ant I came across  immediately got gassed. 

We couldn’t continue this way, so I asked some of the locals what they do when they encountered an ant invasion.  Many of them told me to do nothing.  They they told  me they take their pets and get out of the house.
“You can’t stop them,” said one. “You leave for three hours or so, and they’ll be gone.  They’ll take everything with them, though.  Any scrap of food, any bugs they find, even small electronic devices….   Of course the good news is that if they find any scorpions, they’ll take them as well.” 
Well it’s good to know there’s a silver lining to every cloud.

We weren’t keen on “the get out of the way” option.  What if they decided our place is great and they want to stay?  What if they decided they needed to come back for  the furniture and fridge?

The "strange" tienda 
I mentioned my problem to my friend Dave in Vancouver.  Dave told me when he stayed in Yelapa they had a similar invasion and the owner of the place put some special powder down and the ants  magically disappeared.  so  I asked the owner of the place they stayed where to get “the special powder.”  He told me it was only available at one place in Yelapa – a place with ominous name of “Gorgonias Tienda.”   A place named after a gorgon – the Greek Monster that had the head full of snakes?  I was beginning to feel I was in a Steven King novel.  What’s more interesting is that I’d been in Yelapa nearly ten years and never seen that store When I asked him where it was, here’s what he told me.
“It is down the hill from Trini's Juice Bar on your left just before Mimis.
It is just a window that you go up to, not an actual store”.

“My response was “Does the train to Hogwarts stop there?”  I wandered around the little paths behind Mimis and sure enough, there was a “window” I swear I’d never seen before.  It wasn’t big - maybe  four feet by three feet.  I looked inside and it was quite dark.  I could just make out a few cans of things in the gloom - but nothing that looked like ant powder.  Further I couldn’t see anyone minding the window.   I stared for a few moments until I heard someone say “Hola, Senior, Puedo Ayudarte?”  Startled, I turned around and there in the ally way beside the store was an old guy sitting on a chair.   Michele and I hadn’t noticed them when we arrived.  I told him I wanted something for the ants.  “Raid?” he asked.  I told him I wanted the “special powder.”  He looked at me for a moment then disappeared into a door way.  A few moments later he reappeared holding a silver pouch.  “Thirty pesos, senior.”  I gave him his thirty pieces of pesos and took the package.

When Michele and I returned to our casa the first order of business was to try and decipher the instructions on the package.  They were all in Spanish.  There didn’t seem to be too much information.  There was just a series of ominous warnings:
Secret Powder - Don't feed to Mogwai after midnight
1.       Don’t apply when it’s too hot out.
2.      Don’t apply when it’s too cold out.
3.      Don’t apply if it’s windy
4.      Don’t apply if it’s raining or looks like it’s going to rain.

From this I deduced that I could only apply this shit between the hours of 2am and 4am on odd days of the week in months that don’t have an “R” in them.

The warning continued:
 Don’t inhale the powder
5.      Don’t ingest the powder
6.      Don’t let the powder touch your skin
7.      Don’t let the powder get near your eyes
8.      Don’t use near pets
9.      Don’t use near children
10.  Don’t let the Mogwai eat the powder after midnight…(No, wait, that was from Gremlins)

Jeff in Yelapa biocontainment suit
Since I forgot to bring my biocontainment suit from home we had to concoct an  outfit and applicator for me to use so I wouldn’t gas myself applying it.  I worried if I did kill myself applying the powder the ants would carry me off into the jungle and Michele would have a problem claiming my insurance without a body.
“Why isn’t there any body?”
“He was eaten by ants.”
“Right, sure lady,” and where did this supposedly take place?”
“In Yelapa.”
“Okay, will you take a cheque?”


Using the same logic the French used during WW2 constructing the Maginot Line I only applied the powder to the two sides of the house the ants had attacked before.  (And how did that strategy work out for the French?)  Last night was the first night since I applied the magic powder.  So far so good…  not an ant in sight.  The other good thing is I haven’t heard or seen the neighbours dog.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Croquet – Yelapa Rules and A glitzy Star Wars Opening in Yelapa

Greetings again from Yelapa JANUARY 12, 2016

It’s been an exciting week here in Yelapa: A shipwreck and a glitzy opening of the new Star Wars movie.  Yes, Star Wars has come to Yelapa – just seven minutes after the first screening in China:  not only an opening, but an outdoor screening at the Oasis Entertainment Complex where you can not only watch a major Hollywood blockbuster, but listen to Mexican jazz and play croquet all at the same time.

Oasis Entertainment Complex
Outdoor movies at the Oasis aren’t a rarity; but a screening of a major Hollywood Blockbuster just a week or so after it’s opening is noteworthy.  The Oasis has spared no expense for this screening.  They’ve hung the big king-size bed sheet, and dragged out the big nine inch bookcase speakers to give the audience a true monophonic audio experience.

Michele and I have opted to miss the star studded opening here in Yelapa even though it meant missing  some of Yelapa celebrities march down the red burlap carpet.  We were worried about The "Yogamists" picketing the event, but they’ve been busy with their latest campaign to ban noisy fireworks here in Yelapa – like the spectacular three minute  New Year’s Symphony of Fire claiming the noise  upsets the local animals (as in their  dogs and cats).  Of course they’ve not mentioned a word about the local animals that are loaded with bags of concrete and marched to and from the local construction sites sand five times a day.  They are planning a crowdfunding website to provide earplugs for the dogs and diapers for the burros.

This weekend’s beginning of the NFL playoffs is being overshadowed by the beginning of the Croquet season here in Yelapa.  It may be NFL in the states, NHL in Canada and the World’s Cup in Europe, but in Yelapa everything stops when croquet season begins here.   The whole thing ends in February with a huge quadruple knockout tournament  where teams of expats compete for the Yelapa Cup while amused locals bet pesos on their favourite teams. 

Michele and I dropped by the Oasis earlier in the week to scout some of the local teams.  There was a lot of action on the croquet pitch and we were treated to some spirited banter between the teams.

“Who’s turn is it?”
“I don’t know.  Who went last?”
“What?”
“Is that a green ball or a blue one?”
“That’s my foot!”
“What?”

Well you get the idea.   I’ve edited a “highlight reel” of the exciting action.  Make sure you’re seated when you’re watching it. 

"Before" shot of Canadian Yacht
The other big news is the “shipwreck.”  Earlier this week an expensive Yacht flying the  Canadian flag showed up in the harbour.  For a couple of days the boat zipped in and out of the harbour then suddenly disappeared.  The next day we heard it had run up on the rocks around the corner from the Yelapa landmark romantically known as “Shit Rock” (because of all the colourful bird droppings).  Rumours are the owner had one too many Molsons when he put it on the rocks.   Before it could be salvaged the boat was smashed to bits by the heavy surf.    For the next week bits and pieces have been littering the local beach. 

No sign of “Tick-Tock the Yelapa Croc” or “Bobby the Boa” for the past week, Michele spotted an Iguana the size of a small pickup truck in the tree above our patio. He’s a “second generation herbivore” (definition: an animal that eats the animals that eat leafs (as in Toronto Maple Leafs).

More from Yelapa next week.  Below you’ll see another excerpt from my trip to Costa Rica a few years ago that culminated in my fleeing the country with a price on my head.  

COSTA RICA MAY 16, 2009


the Arenal Volcano  - Is it paper mache?
Well after a week of school (being taught by the dynamic tag team duo of Ilse and Daisy) I opted for a much needed weekend getaway.   One of the premier places to visit in Costa Rica is the Arenal Volcano, so I signed up for an overnight tour.  The drive is part of the Pan American Highway that runs from Alaska to the tip of Peru.  In theory you CAN travel the entire length of this highway, you might want to think twice before doing parts of it.  You might want to consider safer alternatives like taking a leisurely cruise off Somalia in a luxury yacht flying a dollar sign for a flag.  The Somalian pirates send their trainees to Central America for lessons in piracy.   No problem on the Costa Rica section though - the highway is safe except for the massive amount of trucks moving up and down the highway.

As we approach the volcano we are told it is very dangerous and that we should not go anywhere close to it. We are only to observe it from a safe distance.  Evidently people have been killed by “invisible” gas flows from the mountain.  If the clouds stay off the volcano in the evening we will   be driven somewhere where we can see the red magma – not visible in the daytime.

Local attraction at the Hot Springs
In the meantime are driven to a huge hot springs resort where we while the afternoon away being alternatively boiled and chilled.  The complex has twenty different pools - each a different design and temperature.  Several of them even have waterslides and wet bars.   After being boiled to the consistency of a well done egg I sidled up to one of the bars to order a beer.  When I was quoted a price of seven US dollars for one I apologized and said there must be some mistake.   I simply asked to buy a beer, not the entire bar.

The Arenal Vacancy viewing spot
That evening we went to a restaurant for dinner and to wait for it to be dark enough to observe the volcano.  While we were having coffee I noticed an employee uncoiling a huge extension cord and heading off in the direction of Volcano.   It was at that moment I realized the Arenal volcano was actually a fake – made of paper mache and would not survive close scrutiny – which is why they would not let us get closer to it.  The Arenal Volcano was, in fact, the world’s largest grade three science project.
When our guide decides it is dark enough we travel to a vantage sight and stand around and take pictures of each other taking pictures of each other.   After twenty minutes of seeing nothing we return to the café for coffee and dessert.  It is at that moment I notice I had accidentally kicked out the extension cord from the outlet which is why we didn’t see anything at the Volcano.   

Best

Jeff


Monday, January 4, 2016

Besieged by the Yelapa Yogamists and New Year's Eve in Yelapa

Happy New Years and greetings from Yelapa. 


I seem to have got myself into problems here with the local Yoga group.  They’ve put a contract out on me.  It’s unsafe for me to go out here late at night in the off chance that I find myself confronted by a group of  radicalized Yogamists who have been instructed to fold me into a pretzel and leave me for the scorpions behind one of the local eateries.

Is it just one croc.... or are there three?
It all started with the crocodile I mentioned in the last post.  It came to my attention that at one of the recent Yoga On The Beach mornings several of the group reported seeing not one – but three crocodiles swimming by!  I commented on the Friends of Yelapa Facebook page I found the reports somewhat suspect given that they were all a bunch of raving vegetarians  bent into weird positions that starve the brain for oxygen.  I would tend to believe the report if I saw actual pictures.  Some how some of them were offended by that.

 "I don't find it proper to go around bashing what doesn't suit you...I hope you stay the hell away from Yelapa from now on and go vacation in a spot where no one practices Yoga. … It's completely irrelevant to have this guy bash the people that practice yoga. He is poking fun at those that choose to participate in something spiritual and healthy”

The ever popular Yoga on the Beach
I have been tagged as a “Yoga hater” and asked why I chose the Yoga group to “disparage” (had to look that word up).  I responded stating that I did not choose their group lightly – but only after careful thought and consideration did I come to the conclusion that if I was going to pick any group to piss off a yoga group might be the safest.  I figured there was little chance that I might get waylaid by a group of Hells Grannies behind the local vegetarian restaurant here in Yelapa.   Seems I was wrong.

Don’t get me wrong: I highly respect and admire the practitioners of Yoga.  Yoga is one of the world’s great spiritual and ascetic disciplines – along with Tai Chai, Tai Chi, Tai Kwon Do and Simon Says.  I did not realize that it could also harbor fanatic radicalized individuals I’ve labeled “Yogamists” – think of Islamists – only more limber.  Maybe I should send their comments to Charlie Hebdo who have a lot experience dealing with fanatics who believe it’s their way or the highway.  If you wish to weigh in on the debate here’s the link to the page.

Thursday night was New Year’s Eve here in Yelapa, complete with live entertainment and a dazzling three minute firework display accompanied by a “banda band comprised of three tubas and trumpet.

The Tuba is a much maligned instrument in Canada and the US.  When we think of tuba players we think of  “Tubby the Tuba” or the fat kid in the marching band.  In Canada and the US the tuba simply isn’t a cool instrument. 

You don’t hear many conversations like, “Hey we’re having a cookout this weekend.  Think you could bring your tuba?” or “We’re thinking of putting a band together.  We’ve got two guitars, a bass, and a string section, but we’re missing the tuba.  You interested?”

 “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
“To get away from the tuba recital.”

“What do you throw a drowning tuba player?”
“His case.”

But that’s not the case here in Mexico.  In Mexico, the tuba rules - they can’t get enough tuba.  During any live performance (and I’m not making this up) you can hear people screaming “Tuba! Tuba! Tuba!”  - begging for a tuba solo. 

Here in Mexico the tuba players are cool dudes and you don’t want to mess with them – especially if they’re playing narco tunes.

The music is actually known as “Banda” music and is said to have derived from polka music – one of my other favourite types of music.   The think with the tuba, is that the low frequency sound rattles windows and loose dental filings for miles.  There is no way to block it out.  You either have to learn to block it out somehow or embrace it.  On New Year’s Eve Yelapa featured two dueling tuba bands – and the music went on till six in the morning!   When it comes to celebrating New Year’s Eve  little Yelapa can teach the big cities a thing or two.

This week I’m continuing my misadventures in Costa Rica from a few years ago.  That trip culminated with letters to the editor in their national paper calling for my  expulsion from the country and not just a few death threats.  We’ll get there – eventually.  So here’s the second instalment.

  SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA MAY 9, 2009


San Jose - address unkown
 Well it’s now Wednesday or Mercedes or something like that in Spanish. I have been here four days now and I’m beginning to settle into a routine.   My first day was a bit strenuous.  I was quite worried about getting to school the first day, so my host, Nuri agreed to walk me there – like a six year old going to school for the first day (or any Asian kid under the age of 30 in Vancouver). 

In retrospect even a two year old couldn’t get lost.  You simply walk to the end of the block to the main street, turn right, walk to the corner with the big cell tower.  Turn right again and walk about 8 blocks till you get to the school.   Never the less I wasn’t taking any chances.  As Nuri walked with me, I would stop every fifty paces and carefully map where we’d just been - marking down store names and landmarks.  I continued doing this much to Nuri’s annoyance until she deposited me at the school’s front door and went back home.   
Advanced Spanish Studies

After school, I carefully followed my map home:  down the street to the cell tower; turn left and continue to the stairs in the park where I turn into Nuri’s subdivision.  I should be fifty feet now from home (or mi casa as they say here).  But suddenly I’m hopelessly lost.
Obviously someone has MOVED Nuri’s house!   I retrace my steps and then try different side streets in the subdivision and become even more lost.  Finally after 40 minutes I stop a kid and ask for directions.   Oh did I mention they don’t have street names?   Not even main streets! I am really tempted to change things!   I’m thinking of making some street names (GROBERMAN Street) seems like a nice name for the main drag, and late one night nailing them up and see if I can start something.  

Anyways I digress -  I tell the kid I’m lost and hand him my emergency information Nuri pinned to my shirt, and he calls her and tells her I’m lost and roughly where we are.  In about 5 minutes Nuri comes puffing up the street clucking like an angry hen.  She thanks the kid and takes me by the hand and drags me home. 

You’ll be pleased to know that I’m the best student in the school!   In fact I’m odds on favourite to be the school valedictorian.   This is not due to my brilliance as a student; but the fact I am “Thee” student.   There’s just me.

Tag Team teachers Illse and Daisy
My teacher for the past three days has been Ilse.  Ilse is another widow – they seem to grow a lot of them here in Costa Rica.  I don’t think Ile likes teaching me a lot.  I hear her grinding her teeth a lot when I smile and say my two favourite Spanish words “No Comprendo!”

In our conversations which are 20% Spanish, 30% English and 40% pantomime, Ilse tells me she isn’t impressed with Canadian students – she says we’re all too shy and introverted.   I have a sudden urge to leap up at her and squeeze her left boob twice and say “Honk!  Honk!”   I’ll bet that would change her mind about Canadians.  Instead I smile and nod.

Today Ilse wasn’t there.  I evidently wore her out.  So I had Daisy instead.   Daisy is like her name -  nice and bright - and I get along well with her.   I don’t know if she’s permanent or I’ll get Ilse again when she’s released from the sanitarium.

Breakfast at Nuri's
 At home Nuri is great:  she caters to my every need – well nearly every need.  All I have to do is look up and smile and food and drink magically appear.  There’s a lot of variety: some days we have rice and beans, and the next beans and rice.  Dr. Atkins never visited Costa Rica.   Carbs rule here!!  Did I mention she serves the meals with BEER?  

All meals at Nuri’s are proceeded by prayers:   Nuri covers her bases in about three minutes mentioning all relatives, living and dead and sick friends.  I notice I’m included, but I’m not sure in what context.    She looks up at me and I smile and nod.

With no other students to interact with there isn’t much to do here except drink beer and watch TV.   Wait a minute!   That’s what I do at home.  On the weekend I’ve signed up for a tour of the Volcanos.  If thinks don’t liven up, I might jump in to see what happens.

I’ll report back after that.   Until then 

Aidios.

Senior Jeff



Monday, December 28, 2015

Snakes and Crocodiles - Oh My!

Greetings again from Yelapa.   Remember that list of reasons why I love Yelapa I mentioned in my last post?  Well we can add two more items to it: snakes and crocodiles. 

"Tick Tock the Yelapa Croc"
The buzz here last week was about a crocodile (see pic) that had been spotted swimming off the tourist beach near the hotel.  Evidently crocodiles are a rare occurrence.  The current theory it was brought down by the high water in the river Tuito (pronounced Tweet-oh – named after the yellow canary Sylvester the cat was always chasing).

Crocodile sightings are rare here but not unheard of.  The locals tend to downplay the sightings as nothing serious.  After all, the last time a kid got snatched off the beach was eight years ago.  You have a better chance of being bitten by a shark in Hawaii then get chomped on by a crocodile here in Yelapa.  Still it’s better to take precautions: I tend to use the Wildebeest method – stick to the middle of the herd.  When crossing the lagoon I try to keep at least one person in front of me and one behind – not that I’m worried.

Game Wardens being outsmarted by Tick Tock
Today the "game wardens" from Puerto Vallarta showed up for the big Sunday Showdown.  Score after the first round - "Tick Tock" 1 - Game Wardens - 0.  I"ll let you know if they're serving croc tacos at "Tacos Y Mas"  - "Tastes like Pollo"

Bobby the Boa
The same day that “Tick Tock” the crocodile showed up, not to be outdone,  Bobby the Boa made an appearance on the path to our casa.  Bobby is technically a Rosy Tailed Boa, supposedly a very docile type of snake – but don’t tell that to him.  He slithered across the path and up into the trees where he’s waiting to drop down on me one night on my way back from Pollo Bollo (the restaurant).

About the same time the last reported “attack” by a crocodile occurred I was in Costa Rica attempting to learn Spanish by “immersing” myself in the culture.  The result was I sort of had to leave the country in a hurry with death threats made if I should ever return.

So without further ado, here’s the emails of the fateful trip…


May 1, 2009
 Greetings from San Jose in Costa Rica.  I have decided to give Scuba diving a break.   Now that I have pretty well mastered the skill of diving and good relax a bit and take my mind  and eyes off  my gauges and look around a bit I found I was getting bored – I mean how much coral and how many fishes can you look at??

I thought I’d like to explore Central and South America, and to do so it made sense to try and learn Spanish – otherwise I’d be forever relegated to the tourist areas.  This makes great sense except for one thing – the learning thing.

I have never been great in the learning a language.  In fact I suck it at it big time.  My parents sent me to Hebrew School after school three times a week for eight years. After the second or third day the teachers and I came to an understanding:  I wouldn’t bug them, if they wouldn’t bug me. My parents would drop me off. I would go in. Five later  I would go to the washroom and simply not return – until it was time to be picked up.  This worked well for all concerned for about six years when it became time for me to prepare for my bar mitzvah. At that time everyone (including me) came to the sudden realization that I couldn’t read or speak a word of Hebrew despite six years of education.
I did have a prestigious memory then and was able to verbally memorize all the passages I had to learn and repeat them by rote.

In high school I had a choice of French or Latin.  For some reason that escapes me today I chose Latin.  Latin had a lot of “sight translations” which I could memorize and feedback verbatim.   I scraped through with  a big 52%

In graduate school I decided to try and learn French.  The head of the French department was a friend, and despite my protestations that I couldn’t learn he insisted I take his introductory French course.   After three weeks he called me into his office and said,
“Jeff, I know we’re friends, but maybe you might want to think about taking Italian instead.”

I have travelled a great part of the world and manage to get by speaking a little of the language of each place I go.  I speak it, but I don’t understand it!  I’m like a large unfeathered parrot:  I have a working vocabulary of about 100 words in each language:   one hundred words I immediately forget the second the plane home lifts off the runway.  Also since I only parrot words I find in dictionaries my pronunciation gaffs are legendary.  My mispronunciation of  “Zebra” in Swahili nearly caused the driver to swerve off the road.  Only later did I learn I what I was calling a Zebra was the very intimate part of female anatomy!   At dinner the guides and waiters would call their friends into the restauarnat and ask me to identify animals in Swahili then collapse in gales of laughter.
IPEE language school & Prostate Centre
I searched the internet for a compatible Spanish School.  After looking at many I chose the one I’m currently enrolled in.  I used the Richmond Chinese Driving School method to pick the best one:  Pick one with a meaningful name.  Like the “The Lucky Lotus take out restaurant and Driving school” where they combine take out and driving instruction.  The Spanish School I chose was IPEE. It seemed to fit in nicely with my  current prostate condition.

I arrived in Costa Rica last night.  The “getting here” part was not pretty.   It took two hours plus just to check in at the Vancouver Airport and clear US immigrations  where  I qualified for the super deluxe strip search.   Conversely it took about five minutes to clear Costa Rica Customs and Immigration and claim my luggage. 

My San Jose neighbourhood
I was met at the San Jose airport by a nice middle age couple holding a sign with my name sort of written on it.  (Evidently in Spanish countries, Jeff has only has one “f” in it – who knew?   It was at this moment the totality of what I had done suddenly hit me:  These folks don’t speak a word of English!   They babble away at me in Spanish and I smile  at them.  They babble some more and I smile  some more.  As the ride wore on I began to improvise - I would nod when it seemed appropriate.   Smile and Nod.   Nod and Smile.  

I arrive  around 11pm at my new family’s home and make another alarming discovery.  They don’t use street names here!   There are NO street signs of any sort!!!!!  I manage to ask someone who spoke a little English how they find places.  They use “It’s near….”   

“It’s near the Taco Bell near the big plaza with three banks!  “It’s down the street from so and so Pharmacy!” I’m told to tell the taxi driver some landmark and he will magically deliver me to my home.   I’m near the corner of “walk” and “don’t walk”.

Nuri
My host is a charming widow named Nuri.  She lives alone in a nice house (by Costa Rica standards) in the suburb about five minutes’ walk from the IPEE School.  Nuri is very nice, but also doesn’t speak a word of English.  Somehow we are managing to communicate.  I have a small bedroom complete with TV and my own bathroom. The house also has wireless internet, so I’m connected through my laptop.   Nuri made me a large breakfast and has been catering after me with drinks and sacks all morning. 

After breakfast I decide to go for a “little walk” by myself. Nuri gives me explicit instructions, and I immediately got lost.  After 15 minutes she takes pity on me and snags me the third time I pass by her front door. Tomorrow she is going to walk me to school - just like a kid in grade one! 

More mania!

Jef