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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”.

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!


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Yelapa: THe land that forgot Time

Our casa in Yelapa
My apologies for not having written earlier, it’s a combination of indolence, boredom and trying to get into some sort of writing routine here in Yelapa.  Yes, we’re back in Yelapa again.  God, I love it here – if it weren’t for the oppressive heat, the humidity, the bugs, the hurricanes, rolling brownouts, and irrefutable signs of Global Warming.  Speaking of which, they should plan to have the next world conference on Global warming here in Yelapa instead of Paris.  Half of the delegates wouldn’t survive the walk to the Yoga retreat without being swept off the path by a huge wave and carried out to sea.  Other than those few trifling matters we love it here. 

We arrived here about three weeks ago.  The temperature in Puerto Vallarta was a balmy 35 degrees and the humidity somewhere over 100%.    The good news is that it won’t last long: it should cool off right after the hurricane passes.  

Hurricanes don’t bother me much – unless of course I’m in a small boat on the ocean which is about as safe as wearing  a “Jews for Jesus” t-shirt in downtown Mecca during the Hajj .  Michele and I’ve survived few rough transits from Puerto Vallarta over the years.  The most notable being last year when the 45 minute trip took over 2 hours plowing through 15 foot seas. This time, however, the water had that oily slick calm look that precedes a storm.

The "mud" bloom from the river
Perfect, because five hours after our arrival the storm arrives preceded by a spectacular lightning storm.   The hurricane passes well south of us which means we are spared the wind. But the rain?  I haven’t see rain like that since…..    the storm that hit us a few days ago.  Now that storm was a doozy!  It pounded down for two days and I figure we had a foot of rain – and that’s a conservative estimate.  The little river that separates the town from the tourist area resembles the Mississippi – sending a mud bloom miles out into the blue ocean.  There are rivers where there were no rivers.

Before we arrive I write our landlord asking him to make sure everything was shipshape when we arrived, and he did – for the most part.  Other than no internet (essential to communicate to the outside world), a broken ceiling fan (essential for the heat), faulty wiring in the bathroom, no hot water  and no water pressure in the kitchen, the place was in tip top shape.  But on the plus side our landlords provided us with a new pair of deck lounges which means we no longer have an  excuse to visit the beach.

To be fair, most of the problems were fixed quickly by Mexican standards, and other than a few daily disasters, such as a midnight invasion of the army ants who mistakenly took a left instead of a right and ended up in our living room, things are going along quite well.  I took a page out of  Bashar Al-Assad’s book and gassed the ant army with copious sprayings of Raid.  Unfortunately I also gassed myself in the process and had to spend several hours out in the dark on the patio on the new deck lounges until the air was breathable again.  It seems to have done the trick – we haven’t seen any sign of them in a couple of weeks.
Free range horses on my walk

My day usually begins at the crack of eight or nine with a walk east to the tourist beach, or west -through town and up the mountain to the fancy hotel that won’t let me inside.  The walks generally take about an hour and I’ve been doing them for the past four or five years.  However this year the walks have become more “challenging.” 

The walk to the expensive hotel is now no longer possible – since I nearly got swept of the path - that runs along the ocean.  Normally the waves come up to the path but rarely wash across it – and if they do, the water is only an inch or two deep.  Not so this year.  The huge surf crashes right over the path and up against the retaining walls on the uphill side.  In past years I’ve avoided getting my feet wet by timing the waves then hopping quickly across the low spots before the next roller comes in.  Either the waves are coming quicker this year or my timing is out – or both  - because this year I got caught several times by huge rollers that first slammed me into the retaining wall then tried to suck me out to sea.  I think two of my fingernails are still embedded in the wall.   I survived, somewhat banged up, and wet. The locals tell me they’ve never seen the surf as high as it is this year.
a new  waterfall after the rain

The walk in the other direction is more tranquil but now requires several “portages” over large ponds of muddy water that are a result of the massive rains or the high tides – or both.   The good news is that the sunny weather should dry them up in a few days – just after the mosquito larvae hatch.

Our lives here have now settled in a routine that very much resembles what life must be in a seniors home – it gives me a chance to contemplate on my future.  We get up, get dressed, eat, nap, play a board game in the afternoon, nap, have dinner, watch an hour of TV then go to bed.  A couple of times a week we go out for dinner.  The only thing missing is the Filipino caregiver poking us with a stick to see if we’re still alive.

One of my catches for a morning's fishing
I will say one thing:  the fishing here is spectacular!  You can go out here for a morning’s fishing for less than the tip would cost you for fishing in Canada or the US.  I’ve been going for years and I’ve never had a bad day’s fishing.   This year I went out with Luis, my usual  fishing guide.  There was supposed to be another guy - but he didn’t show - so Luis took me out for three hours at the cost of two.  At fifty bucks an hour….  You do the math.  I caught, three chorra (small tuna like fish), one fifty pound swordfish (which I tried unsuccessfully to release) and two thirty pound mahi mahi’s.  I kept the smaller mahi mahi and donated the rest to the village.
Susan at the Bahia Restauarant

I’ve been complaining to my friends that the older I get the faster time seems to go by.  I’ve finally found a cure for that – Yelapa.  Time stands still here.  I pointed this out  to my wife Michele.  She told me that the battery in the wall clock had died.  I replaced the battery with a brand new one and nothing’s changed, so I think she’s wrong: time does stand still here.  So if you want to live forever, come to Yelapa.  You won’t actually live forever, it will just seem that way.

Another irrefutable sign that time moves slower here is the internet:  At home I can download an episode of NCIS in a little over three minutes.  Here the best estimate I’ve gotten is 12 hours!

I’ll be posting any exciting news from here from time to time, and I’m going to continue my practice of re-posting some of my earlier adventures around the world which I have shared with many of you.

If you’re heading down Puerto Vallarta way, drop in for a visit.  We’re here till the end of February – which is like…   forever.

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