Tuesday, February 12, 2008

!!!SCORPION¡¡¡ (Hopefully, the last of the ever popular ¨exclamation point¨ series)

As many of you already know, I sleep shrouded in a light green (some might call it pistachio) reppelant impregnated, mosquito net. My host family thinks this is a silly practice especially during the summer months when there aren´t nearly as many mosquitos around. For this reason and also out of sheer laziness, I have not been as dilligent about checking to make sure that all parts of the net are touching the ground. This would prove to be a mistake.

1:15 AM

I was asleep. I rolled over and was immediately jarred awake by an intense stabbing pain in my back (think of your worst bee sting times ten). I reached around to try and remove the offending creature but was again bitten on my left forearm. Bewildered and belligerent, I jumped out of bed and switched on the light. I examined my arm and to my relief found only a small red bump. I then proceeded to scour my bed and the surrounding area for a good half hour. After finding only moldy sheets of loose leaf and various dead bugs, I reluctantly decided to lay back down. Because I had not seen it, I assumed that the creature must have been a very large ant (most of which bite) or a spider of some sort.

The Aftermath

The bumps on my arm and back began to swell until they reached the size of about half a tennis ball. I then began losing feeling in my lips and a horrible sour taste flooded my mouth. About 15 minutes later I began to lose feeling in my hands and feet. At this point I became very tired and fell back to sleep.

In the morning, I told me Host-Mom about the mysterious bite and my symptoms through my still tingling lips. She told me that it was probably a scorpion because only they have the magical power of numbing your extremities. She also explained that I should have woken her up because Claudio, our next door neighbor, was stung a few months ago, and it was serious enough that he had to be taken to the emergency room.

¿What have we learned today?

-If in need of a good tranquilizer, a scorpion will do in a pinch.

-Scorpions are not nearly as hilarious as snakes or spiders.

-Always be on the look out for something trying to kill you.

I would like to dedicate this blog to my Father who bought me the yellow wind-up flashlight I´ve used to hunt for many a spider, cockroach, and now scorpion.

Post Script: February 15, 2008

I discovered my assailant in the corner of my room being feasted on by hundreds of tiny ants. I can only hope that if there is a God, he´s already set aside a nice, warm, little corner of scorpion-hell.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


My friend Rudy had come to visit and we were seated at the table, playing cards and listening to music with my host dad, when we heard a scream. It was my host mom. The following is a literal translation of what they said to each other.

Host Mom: ¨Come quick, my love! There is a snake at the door!¨
Host Dad: ¨...¡Caramba!¨

We all bolted from the table and flew to the door in an attempt to see the snake before it scurried away. Luckily for us this would not be a problem. My host dad somehow managed to arrive before us with a rusty, squared-off machete that you can see in the above picture. He then pinned it to the floor with a deftly quick jab of the knife. Apparently his plan was not to kill it right away. ¨Go and get your camera!!!¨, he yelled as I ran to my room tripping over my sandals.

When I returned, Rudy informed me that this snake was ,in fact, the dreaded ¨Terciopelo¨ or ¨Fer de Lance¨ as it is more commonly known in the US. Heralded as the most dangerous snake in Costa Rica, I was relieved to see this particular serpent trapped under a steel blade, instead of sinking its poisonous fangs into the legs of me or my loved ones. Here´s a little background:

¨The Fer de Lance is considered the most dangerous snake in Costa Rica, responsible for 46% of all bites and 30% of all hospitalized cases. This species is irritable, fast-moving and agile. It is also regarded as being more excitable and unpredictable than B. atrox, and has a reputation for being aggressive. Its large size and habit of raising its head high off the ground can result in bites above the knee. It has also been observed to eject venom over a distance of at least 6 feet (1.8 m) in fine jets from the tips of its fangs.[7]¨

What happened next still astounds me to this day...

Host Dad: ¨You ready to take the picture?¨
Me: ¨...Yes, I´ve already taken one.¨
Host Dad: ¨Ok, GO!!!¨

With Daddy Yankee blasting in the background, my host dad then released the snake allowing it to scurry and slither to and fro on the tiled floor. In the minute of sheer confusion and fear that followed, Rudy and I rapidly leapt and scrambled one way or another, grabbing and holding each other for support (moral and physical), while trying to avoid the path of the also very frightened and confused snake. I suppose my host dad thought that releasing the snake would allow for a great opportunity for me to snap a photo of the beast ¨sans machete¨, but in reality, it made for what would appear to be a very dangerous and ironic game of Dance Dance Revolution.

There´s the photo that almost cost me a coronary. I hope you enjoy it. My host dad eventually killed the snake and Rudy and I each took turns posing while it was dripping blood from its head-wound. These pictures are priceless, but unfortunately they are saved to the internal memory of my camera which I did not bring today. Please enjoy this picture of Rudy posing with the about to be deceased Fer de Lance.

I would like to dedicate this blog to my sister Caitlin who, in November of 2007, taught me how to ¨Crank It¨.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Don´t call it a comeback...

I originally planned to update this blog about once every two weeks. Then it turned into once every month. Now, you and I are sitting here almost exactly three months from the last entry and we´re both wondering what happened. I´d like to think that its all your fault.

So much has happened in the last three months. I pulled off a gigantic Halloween extravaganza for my town´s children that included costumes, 12 kilos of candy, 6 games, and a haunted house. This was quite a feat considering that my town has a lot of people who are religiously opposed to Halloween. The whole situation reminded me a lot of the movie ¨Footloose¨ and I was playing the Kevin Bacon part, trying to convince the town that Halloween wasn´t really a one way ticket to ¨Diablo¨. Although I´m not going to name names, there was a John Lithgow character but I was successfully able thwart his attempts to impede the progress of my Halloween preparations. Everything went off without a hitch and the kids seemed to have a wonderful time.

For Thanksgiving I went to the United States of America (perhaps you´ve heard of it?) and got to see my family and friends and dog. I would say the hardest thing about Peace Corps. for a lot of volunteers is being away from their families. This definitely holds true for me and I can´t explain to you how amazing it was to see all of them. I also got to drive to Pennsylvania from Chicago and was able to make commemorative pennies in four different states. I´m not sure if everyone knows what I´m talking about here, but there are these machines that you put fifty cents in and then one penny. You turn the wheel to the design you would like imprinted (i.e. The Indianapolis Speedway) and a few cranks later, this flattened copper oval pops out of the bottom slot. I´m not sure if this is illegal or not, but its so much FUN it should be!!!LOLZ!

I had a bit more to write including a snake story but my bus is coming, so I´ll leave that for next time. I´d like to dedicate this blog to my Aunt Barb who reads this blog and prints it off to give to her friends.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Just because I´m in the Peace Corps. doesn´t mean that I don´t like to take showers. Albeit unlike most of you, my showers are cold and sometimes swarming with gigantic spiders waiting to empoison me with their deadly venom. That being said, I was in the shower the other day and was a bit startled to see this merry fellow dangling from our shower curtain. Actually, startled isn´t quite the word, as I believe I yelled something like, ¨JEEEEEEEEEEESSSSHUUUUWAAATHAAAAAA!!!¨ as I sprinted to my room, scantily clad.

After a 2 minute pep talk (with myself), I returned armed with my camera, baseball glove, and a newfound sense of manhood. With my back pressed against the wall, I inched my way around the shower curtain and was once again face to face with the mighty beast. I then smacked him to the ground with the baseball glove and he proceeded to scurry to and fro on the floor, whilst I tap-danced like a little girl, trying to avoid him. He must have gotten himself rather winded, because he abruptly stopped scurrying and I was able to snap this rather candid shot. In this picture you can clearly see him contemplating his impending doom. In fact, if you look closely enough, you can even see a tiny spider tear trickling down from one of his many spider eyes.

Next I killed him, mercilessly and brutally. I won´t go into the details here because children read this blog (perhaps yooouurr children). Upon finishing this dirty deed I relished in a chance to relax for a moment and began contemplating my shower again. It was at this instant that I felt something JUMP ON MY BACK!!! I immediately began batting wildly behind me with both arms (we all know how difficult and awkward this can be), while visions of a vengeful spider relative sinking his teeth into my flesh were running through my head. I finally managed to knock the offending creature to the ground and quickly got a picture of him as he crawled into the shower curtain rod.

Wow, sometimes that God can be quite a prankster. As it turns out, the mystery guest was nothing more than one of the tiny tree frogs that lives in our shower. Perhaps he was feeling a bit homesick and, wrought with grief, mistook my back for a soft lily pad. Either way he scared the bejeeezus out of me.

I would like to dedicate this blog to my cousin Travis and his dog J.D.

Monday, September 3, 2007

¨Jimmy Stuff¨

The reader may need to be reminded that all dialogue has, in fact, been roughly translated from ¨Campo¨ Spanish to English.

¨Who the hell is that?¨, I exclaimed.

´That´s ¨Jimmy Stuff¨´, my Host-Dad replied knowingly.

As we were sitting on our front porch, an elderly man carrying a giant garbage bag slung over his shoulder, was ambling towards us, shouting at the sky and berating various trees/birds. He wore knee-high rubber boots, which are very common here, except for the fact that his were astonishingly white instead of the standard black. He also had a chest length white beard and a blue cap with an abnormally long yellow bill.

¨Why do they call him Jimmy Stuff?¨, I asked, a little uneasy.

¨You see that big garbage bag he´s carrying? Its all full of different stuff he´s picked up while walking around the country.¨

¨Whoa, WALKING around the country???

¨Ya, he walks from town to town, living on the food and clothing that people give him. He´s been all over Costa Rica and parts of Panama and Nicaragua, I think¨, he said nonchalantly.

¨Well, where is he from?¨, I inquired.

¨He´s not FROM anywhere. I heard that he had a brother up North, but I think that he died. Regardless, he´s quite crazy.¨

Jimmy Stuff ended up coming up to our house and chatting with us for a while. I couldn´t really understand much of what he was saying, and I don´t think my Host-Dad could either. We ended up just nodding our heads a lot while easing back and forth in our rocking-chairs. At dinner time, my Host-Dad brought Jimmy Stuff a big plate of rice and beans which he ate ravenously, half with his hands, and half with the spoon. Later in the night, my Host-Dad was still talking to Jimmy Stuff as I went to bed.

The next morning, Jimmy Stuff had left our town, but I learned that he had stayed the night in our corral with all of the cattle. Apparently, he sleeps outside everywhere he goes, and never stays more than 3 nights in one place. He never causes any trouble, and I don´t think he would have stayed any longer even if we had asked him to. Not to get all Peace Corps. on you, but this just reinforces the stereotype of how kind and open the Ticos (Costa Ricans) are. I doubt that you could travel around America dressed and speaking crazily, and have people treat you with kindness and hospitality. Not to say that there aren´t some places where they might take you in, but most assuredly not everywhere. Sometimes it feels like I´m living in the United States of the 40´s or 50´s where everyone was a lot more trusting, and life was a lot more simple. At least that is my view of the 50´s from watching reruns of ¨Lassie¨.

On a more hilarious note, I had noticed that my Host-Dad says ¨¡Caramba!¨ a lot in situations where we (you and I) would normally shout our favorite English expletive. A few nights ago, I finally decided to look the word up in the dictionary to find out how foul of a curse it really was. Here is what I found:

¡Caramba! interj Good Gracious!

GOOD GRACIOUS??? I could not believe that as this 6 ´2 giant of a man stabs a pig in the throat with a machete and gets blood splattered all over his face and clothing, he exclaims, ¨Good Gracious!!!¨ Perhaps some things are just better left untranslated. That´s all for now, compaƱeros. More to come directly...

Saturday, August 4, 2007

2 Circuses and a Funeral

A few weeks ago, I was soundly sleeping when my host-dad started banging on my door at 5:00 in the morning. It is very rare for him to do this, so I was a bit startled and thought something might be wrong. I hurriedly lifted the veil of the sanctuary that is my mosquito net, and stumbled to the door to open it. My host-dad was standing there in his best clothes and with a huge smile on his face.

¨Do you want to go to a funeral?¨, He asked.

¨Ummm.......sure.¨, I lied.

Apparently, an elderly woman in our town had just passed away the day before, and she was to be buried at 7:00 in the town cemetary. In the U.S., I feel like funerals are more of a private affair, but here in the small towns in Costa Rica, EVERYONE goes.
There was a long procession from the Evangelical church to the top of the mountain which is where our cemetary is located. All the men in the town were taking turns carrying the coffin which was covered in this beige material that very much resembles shag carpeting. There is also a window on the top of the coffin that can be opened to view the face.

After the funeral, I ran into my counterpart on my way back home. He informed me that the night before, a man from the circus had woken him at 10p.m. and asked if they could set up shop in my town for two nights. He agreed of course, and that night I went with my family to see ¨Chicarron y sus estrellas¨ en vivo!!!

Now, I´m sure when you think of a circus, you think of lions, freaks, and motorcycles riding around in those crazy steel balls. Well, this ¨circus¨ had to fit in a van the size of a tiny UHaul truck! They did, however, have room enough for an indigenous man who could juggle things with his feet...well more or less. He started with this giant wooden spool that he dropped three or four times in the course of 5 minutes. After this fiasco, they decided to stick four ruler sized sticks on each side and LIGHT THEM ON FIRE! At this point, I began fearing for my life and the lives of all the children trapped with me in what could be called any fire marshall´s nightmare of a common meeting place. Of course, he dropped the flaming spool several times as well, and a few small fires had to be put out, but it was all in the name of circus fun.

The next and final act was ¨Gerry¨ the dancing poodle who, for some reason I couldn´t quite put my finger on, looked a bit strange and was very reluctant to dance, or do any of the other tricks most circus animals devote their lives to. For his final trick, they brought out a minature obstacle course for Gerry to run through. This included a tiny slide, a bridge, several staircases and finally a 2 foot jump through a hoop. Gerry ran the course surprisingly well, but when he neared the final jump he stopped dead in his tracks and began shaking a bit. It was here that the horror of full realization hit me like a giant wooden spool that I´d been juggling with my feet: Gerry looked strange because he didn´t have any hair on the underside of his body. They were going to LIGHT THE HOOP ON FIRE!!! GERRY NOOOOOOOOOO!!! Sure enough, one of the performers came out with some lighter fluid and a pack of matches and set the hoop ablaze while literally pushing Gerry to the edge of his platform to jump. Shockingly, and like a true champion, Gerry leapt through the air with the grace and courage of a young Amelia Earheart, only narrowly avoiding burning off what little remaining hair he had on the lower half of his pink body.

As we were walking home, I was thinking, ¨This is probably the only time in my life I will be able to say that I´ve been to a funeral and a circus in the same day¨.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Here is a picture of a crazy fruit they call mamones. You peel the outer layer and then chew this sweet fleshy covering that encloses the seed. Its pretty good and there is a huge tree full of them in front of my house.
The following is a photo of the ¨Chocolate Cake and Machete¨ section of my local grocery store.

You can pretty much buy these things anywhere. Old women and children carry them. I´m thinking it should become part of the Costa Rican flag.

Today, I got to meet President Oscar Arias again. He is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, former professor at Harvard, and all around bad-ass. He was visiting because they are planning on building an international airport in my area (La Zona Sur) which is also the most impoverished area of Costa Rica. This would bring in many millions of dollars in revenue from tourism, but would also bring many problems with drugs and prostitution.

Still working on my community anaylsis and making finalizations on my community map. I think i´m getting very used to the pace of Tico life which might be a bad thing on my return to the hustle and bustle of the Estados Unidos. Time to go, but I´d like to dedicate this blog to my cousin Travis, who likes to read it when he´s bored at work.