Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lunch in the Parque Central

It's cool to just hang out in the Parque Central, the heart of the city. I'm always amazed at how many people are just sitting, talking to their friends and taking in life. There's not many places in the world where the weather rarely gets hot or cold and people don't consider work or rushing around as the defining aspect of their life.

February is the beginning of the school year so today the park was filled with hordes of uniformed school kids bursting with energy. Each group seems to have their bench or location and it's quite a lively scene throughout the day.

Janet and I also ran into our friend David who works at our building supply store Gema taking his lunch hour hanging in the park with his co-workers.

Anybody can pass their life away as a workaholic grabbing a few brass rings along the way. My friends and neighbors in San Ramon make an art form of enjoying life. I've learned a lot from them and enjoyed my afternoon walking to town, choosing a bench and enjoying the scene at the parque central.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Coffee Harvest

Owning an organic coffee and fruit farm in El Empalme, San Ramon, Costa Rica is just about the last thing I ever would have imagined.

This week was our first coffee harvest. The reality of the opportunity and responsibility that comes with owning a coffee farm blew our minds. We have the privilege to nurture the farm and help the community.

Don Alejandro and his family appeared out of nowhere and asked if they could pick our coffee and work on the farm. They are a poor Nicaraguan family looking for an opportunity. It’s just the beginning but using the resources of the farm to help our neighbors should be quite a trip.

We have a few hundred pounds of coffee beans that we brought to my friend Martin Rodriguez to dry, process and roast. In about 2 months OUR first organic coffee harvest will be ready to drink.

The day following coffee harvest, Don Alejandro said for the health of our 6 lemon trees, he wanted to bring in the limons. I was shocked and pleased to see 600 limons in a half a day. In 15 days, our trees should produce their next crop. We’re fantasizing about our future organic lemonade stand and how to use our mountain (literally) of fruit. Besides our lemons, our coffee farm produces manos (hands) of banana, plantano and cuadrada, guavas, guayabas, oranges and sweet lemons, water apples, mangos and pitaaya. This is the true meaning of shade-grown coffee plants, a rich eco-system of fruit shading the coffee and feeding the many birds and animals.

Our friend Christopher studied agriculture for 6 years and will coordinate the projects.

Our neighbors in El Empalme have welcomed us and the possibilities are endless. Poco a poco.... The incredible sunsets into the Pacific Ocean make this a truly magical place. I can’t really think of too many places in the world that compare to our farm in El Empalme.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

My New Machete

I just celebrated a birthday and usually avoid gifts, etc. This year there was one thing I wanted. Janet bought me an 18-inch machete with lovely leather case. Now that I own a small farm filled with fruit, coffee and lush tropical plants, I wanted a machete to carve out my place. It was a blast holding them and trying to figure out size shape etc. It was kinda like a baseball player picking out a bat.

My only past machete experience was walking the nightime streets of Managua, Nicaragua a few years back My local host said that after someone stole the chocolate cake he was eating, he always armed himself at night. I wielded it on our walk home. Luckily, we arrived without incident. It would have been hard to explain why a peaceful guy from New York was walking the dangerous Managua streets brandishing a huge machete.

I'm hoping for a lifetime of mellow peaceful experiences with my new birthday present, cutting down fruit and carving paths through my lush farm in El Empalme outside of San Ramon.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

My Dinner With Juan

I met Juan a number of years ago when he was the head teller at Banco Popular. At 25 years old, he was half the age of many of those working under his supervision. Juan would help me in English in order to practice. Over time, he would be anticipating my bank stops, saving up lists of words and idioms for translation.

Now he works for Proctor and Gamble in San Jose, a prestigious job in Costa Rica, and during our dinner we both spoke about the challenges of living in two cultures. There are huge and numerous differences that we both see from our outsider vantage point of a foreigner living in another culture.

When he calls Cincinnati, and asks his suppliers how they are, they often respond with, “Not too bad.” There are only two answers for most Ticos to “How are you?” … Todo Bien or Pura Vida. For a Costa Rican to even have the word bad in your answer is socially unacceptable,

Juan was trained at P & G to give great service to “go the extra mile.” This is a new concept for him. In Costa Rica, “No Hay” is the most common response when a worker doesn’t have what you ask for. It is rarely followed by an explanation or a further attempt to find out more specific information.

At Banco Popular, Juan’s co-workers routinely kissed each other on the cheek to say hi and touched each other playfully and jokingly. He learned at P & G that this could be considered sexual harassment at a large U.S. company.

There is no right or wrong here, just 2 different cultural realities and norms. In order to best live in a foreign culture, it helps to understand the paradigm shifts. I’ve seen many non-Costa Ricans here filled with frustration and confusion when situations defy their logic and past experience. It’s been a long journey for me to flow smoothly here and has required a premium of patience and openness…and few shots of Guaro.

My Dinner With Juan was cool for both of us to discuss and laugh about our observations from living in each other’s cultures.

Living in the culture is an expression of eco-tourism.

Mi Destino/My Destiny in San Ramon, Costa Rica

This will be my 6th Christmas season living in San Ramon, Costa Rica. Wow...I have grown, changed, been at emotional highs and lows ... and truly spent my years 45-51 experiencing things that I never imagined for myself. I'm thankful to the Ramonense (San Ramon natives) for taking me in and making me comfortable in this special town and country.

While the differences began as English/Spanish, snow/sun, expensive/inexpensive. I now feel the subtler differences... the ones that take awhile to get. Living in the present is a spiritual pursuit in the 1st World, while here it is intrinsically a part of life. A comical and sometimes difficult reality is that it's hard to make plans with people for days or even hours in the future. Punctuality and efficiently productive days are not a big part of the culture. When I walk down the street I shake hands with all my men friends and kiss all the ladies. This takes priority over rushing to accomplish and puts a smile on my face. Another way of saying this is... San Ramon and Costa Rica are more about being than striving. For most of us 1st World folks, this has the potential to create a happier and healthier life.

In the USA I had a series of careers...mortgage banker, vegetarian restaurant owner, CFO of a high tech company, restaurant reviewer for a newspaper, diamond sorter. I was born in Brooklyn, New York...graduated with a degree in International Politics from University in Albany and have lived in Ithaca, NY for over 25 years.

I spent the first years in San Ramon, Costa Rica renting a $70 a month apartment and living without car, phone, tv, all the accoutrements of my 1st World life. I walked the streets learning the language and little by little became a part of the scene. And I had my share of angels helping me make a life here. Pablo and Mary at the cigar store, Jimmy Lee the chiropractor, Sylvia (my landlady) and her family. Alonso and the folks at El Buho (now Rincon Poeta) and all the others who kept me here when the loneliness and the sometimes seemingly insurmountable daily challenges would have led most sane people to leave and go back to the comfort of their known life.

Now, over five years later, I have traveled Costa Rica from the Osa Peninsula to Guanacaste and been in every country in Central America. The nightime streets of Managua or San Salvador hardly resemble the Pura Vida of Costa Rica. San Ramon is clearly where I belong. For the last 2 years I have had a girlfriend and partner Janet with whom I own a home and other properties around San Ramon. You can visit our website at www.costaricapm.com to learn more. Feel free to contact me.

Costa Rica is a culture centered around the family while the USA feels like the ultimate expression of the individual. Having Janet here has connected me in a deeper way in San Ramon. This being Thanksgiving, I am thankful for how my years in Costa Rica have helped me to appreciate and connect with my own family. Now that I've given a little background on myself...I'll be regularly adding new postings, sharing my experiences and reflections on life in San Ramon and Costa Rica

Pura Vida

PS Subscribe to my blog below this posting and you will receive notice of new blogs. Thanks