The mangled ankle and the miracle Tico

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Tuesday, September 11

Low tide was at about 9 o’clock yesterday morning, so at 10 I set off for the Whale’s Tail. What a difference a day makes. After Sunday’s crowds of happy Ticos, the beach yesterday was desolate. I had it pretty much to myself, passing only an occasional beachcomber. By the time I got to the tail, the tide already was coming up, with water from both sides starting to overlap the sand bar leading out to the rocks.

On the way back, I figured I’d swing by Flutterby House for lunch. They have decent fish tacos and wireless, which would allow me to download the latest episode of the Revolutions podcast.

That’s where things took a turn for the worse.

The dirt roads here are often mud pits flooded with water, which describes the route I chose to Flutterby House. It started off fine. I was feeling my way through it and while my Birks were getting muddy, it wasn’t too bad. Then I hit a stretch where about a 18 inches of mud was under the water. I think I was on something rocky and when I stepped off it, my foot slid into the mud, sending me twisting to the ground. I heard a pop in my ankle and managed to lose both of my sandals.

This wasn’t good.

So there I am, ass covered in mud, taking the whole Gringo Feo thing to an entirely new level as I sifted through the mud trying to recover my sandals. I found one almost immediately and was starting to lose hope for the second, dreading the walk home with only one sandal. I already had walked about 4 miles on the beach, and the route home was rocky.

Ankle on ice.

That’s when my saviors emerged, three Ticos pushing bicycles along the far opposite side of the mud-pit road. They were older, maybe 50s or even early 60s, and rather than burst into laughter at the sight of a Gringo groveling in the mud, one of them put his bike down and started helping me look for the missing zapata, which he located almost immediately by noting my path into the mud and looking farther back instead of the spot where I had fallen.

¡Que milagro! I called out. (What a miracle.) I thanked them profusely in Spanish and then started to think about how I was going to get home. At that point, I knew I’d twisted my ankle pretty severely, but there wasn’t much pain. So I decided to head back toward the beach, where I could step out into the surf to wash off the mud, and continue from there. As I walked it was clear my ankle was sprained, but I took it slowly and got back to the house.

Once there, I put the ankle on ice and started munching ibuprofen. It looks as if I’ll be out of action for at least a few days. There’s a good bit of swelling, but the pain is manageable and I can walk on it, though gingerly. I’m hoping if I stay off it and read for a few days it will recover. I’m still worried about that pop I heard when I went down but at this point I’ll have to wait and see. Fortunately, I’m stocked up on food so I don’t have to go anywhere for a while. This morning I’m encouraged at the fact that it didn’t worsen overnight. I think that’s a good sign. And based on everything I’ve read on the Internet, the key from here is to stay off it as much as possible and let it heal. If the swelling or pain increase, I’ll call a cab and go to the medical clinic.

So the next few updates will more likely read like a hospital chart.

High tide at Ballena National Marine Park

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Monday, September 10

After a few phone calls back the the States yesterday, I decided to take a walk on the beach. I’ve been avoiding the beach on weekends because I figured it would be more crowded with tourists. And one of my favorite things about Ballena National Marine Park is the solitude it offers most days.

Turns out, there’s something to be said for crowds.

At the Playa Colonia entrance, several vendors were selling ice cream and I noticed a lot more people in the area as I paid my $6 U.S. entry fee. Normally when I arrive, it’s just me and the worker who collects money.

Today, there were Ticos everywhere. Some where local. Some come from other parts of Costa Rica to vacation on the beach. This is the Whale and Dolphin Festival, which runs Sept. 7-16, so that drew even more people. (Ballena is Spanish for whale.)

I saw very few Gringos as I walked. I noticed the tide was coming up and checked the tide chart I’d downloaded on my phone, so I knew I had a few hours till high tide. As I stepped carefully to dodge shell fragments, coconut husks and the occasional rock, I saw people flying kites, children splashing in the surf, dogs chasing each other, young couples … it was a cross-section of Tico society playing in the sand.

At the beach near the main park entrance, there were about a dozen boats loading and offloading customers for whale and dolphin tours. I love watching the mates as they stand in knee-deep water, steadying the boat and keeping the bow pointed into the surf as they wait for the right moment to launch. After a wave crashes past, the mates push off, the captain trims the outboard down and a rooster tail of water erupts, propelling the boat into the surf and on toward the whales. I always worry one of the mates will get mangled in the outboard prop as it screams to life, but they step aside like nautical bullfighters.

At that point, the tide already was too high to venture out onto the tail of the whale, so I tracked south, toward Playa Hermosa. The crowds thinned quickly and after several hundred yards I found a stretch of beach with a population of three: me, a gray-headed kite and a white ibis, who was scurrying frenetically from one crab hole to another, trusting his beak deep inside to try to catch its occupant by surprise. When the ibis drifted too close to the kite, the raptor took umbrage, leaping into the air and herding it away. The kite was just hanging out on the beach, like me, not really hunting for anything in particular. After a while, he flew off into the jungle that ran right up to the beach.

At this point, a pair of young men approached. I greeted them in Spanish, as I always do, and they made the mistake of thinking I speak the language, unleashing a gatling gun of words at me.

“Lo siento. No hablo español bien,” I stammered. I could tell they were official. Each was wearing an ID badge.

“English?” the shorter guy asked.


He told me it was time to start heading back south, back to the other side of the point where Rio Uvita flows into the sea. Otherwise, I’d be cut off and spend a few hours on the edge of the jungle waiting for the tide to go out.

“The tide is coming up fast,” he said.

And that was true. I walked back the way I came, and when I crossed Rio Uvita where it flows into the sea, the water was almost waist deep. It had been ankle deep on my way out. I also saw several people lying on the beach who were caught unaware as an early-bird wave swept in, swamping their towels and coolers.

At this point, I started re-evaluating my frustration with the $6 park entry fee (Ticos pay a $2 fee). I don’t mind paying, but if you go to the beach every day, well, it adds up. I’d found a way to dodge the toll at an unguarded beach access near Flutterby House, but with the festival happening a toll collector has been stationed there, too.

Now, I’m happy to pay the toll. The guys who approached were good-natured and professional, and the park is an incredible resource. There are regular police patrols in the area and Playa Colonia has bathrooms and basic shower facilities. When I think of the crap I spend 6 bucks on, it’s a bargain.

My most sublime moment of the walk came as I arrived back at Playa Colonia. I walked up off the beach, past a couple who had dug a trough where their toddler was lying while they covered him with sand. The little guy couldn’t have been more than 18 months and had the most beatific smile I’ve ever seen on a child. It was infectious. I grinned the whole way home.

Clouds crept in as sunset approached, but I walked up to the shack hoping they’d hold off just long enough. And they did, treating me to a rainbow over the jungle and a brilliant sunset. Great end to another day in paradise.

The banana caper

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Sunday, September 9

Survivors of the banana caper.

Strange noises in the middle of the night are routine here. That’s why I didn’t get too rattled when I heard a racket down near the kitchen as I turned out the lights to go to bed. “’T’is some visitor,’ I muttered. ‘… Only this and nothing more.’”

The next morning, I realized I’d been robbed. A massive bunch of bananas, which had been ripening on a table next to three mangoes and a pair of limes, had been decimated. There still were several bananas left, strewn about the concrete floor. The ground beneath nearby bushes was littered with banana peels. Total carnage. I also noticed the remaining rambutan (mamon chino) had been plucked from the tree.

I’m not sure who grabbed the bananas, but it was someone agile. I had a flashlight and several other items on the table near them, all undisturbed. Even the mangoes and limes were exactly where I’d left them. This was the work of a sharpshooter. I think if I lived here full time I’d invest in a trail camera. It would be fascinating to see who’s coming and going in the wee hours …

Speaking of night sounds …

I love waking up in the middle of the night to the roar of surf. It’s especially noticeable when the tide is up. It sounds almost as if I’m on the beach it’s so loud. The ocean is maybe a kilometer distant and visible from multiple points here at PurUvida, including the deck of the Treehouse. As the day sounds melt away and night grows so deep that even truckers have forsaken the road, surf sounds rise to fill the silence. What a great way to fall back asleep.

New (to me) birds

After a light rain halted Saturday, the birds came out. As usual, I was dazzled by the antics of the yellow flycatchers. But I also spotted two other birds that I was determined to identify. I have each of them narrowed down to a few possibilities.

The first, a predominantly black bird with red beneath, might be a Cherrie’s Tanager, or possibly a Red-Breasted Blackbird. The range for both includes Uvita. It reminded me very much of the Red-Wing Blackbirds who raise hell along the Hocking River back in Athens when I walk SunnyDog.

The second was aSlaty Antwren or Dusky Antbird. I need to get a closer look to determine for certain. What I saw was a female, which had a yellow/orange belly. Apparently the difference is that the Slaty has a light area all around eye. On the Dusky the orange/yellow stops below the eye. The male of each species is dark, with Dusky being closer to gray than black and the Slaty more of a — surprise surprise — slate color. Curiously, neither species eats ants. They “follow foraging army ants, which flush out hidden arthropods that the birds eagerly consume.” Watch out, arthropods.

The Book

I took a second run at the second chapter of The Book the other day and I’m a lot happier with where it landed. It’s definitely not done, but it’s progressing. I’m trying to tell the story through several first-person narrators, and I’ve been struggling with this one. As I listen to podcasts about writers discussing their work, they often talk about how the plot takes on a life of its own as the characters rise up off the page and become fully formed. That’s starting to happen here. Still a long way to go, but I’m making progress. I spent last night listening to fiction writing lectures on plot. Very helpful. Even if the entire thing crashes and burns, I think this will make me a more erudite reader.

I’m reassessing my view of Darkness Visible, the historical novel set during the Homestead strike. After a slow start introducing characters, motivations, etc., Trilby picked up the pace in the second half leading up to the actual strike. I finished it yesterday and overall give it a thumbs up. I shifted from reading it because I was researching my own book to reading it because it was a good story.

Blistering hikes

I’ve been bedeviled by blisters here, and I can’t seem to find the right footwear that facilitates my mega-treks without inflicting further damage. I brought Birkenstocks, Tevas and Merrill hiking boots. The latter two have served me well for countless miles in Athens, but here they crucify my feet. The Birks don’t cause problems, but they’re not great for walking long distances. I’m hoping a few more rounds of blisters and my feet will be able to handle it. I guess I’m a true tenderfoot here in the jungle. If nothing else, it’s taught me the Spanish word for bandages: vendas. I stopped by la farmacia yesterday to buy another box, and surprisingly, a four-mile trek in my Tevas didn’t inflict further damage, though I did have both of my big toes wrapped mummy-like in vendas.

While I was out, I managed to catch a G4 connection while eating at Sibu Cafe, which has WiFi that I couldn’t get into despite multiple attempts and clarifications of the password. But that G4 still was like jumping on a rollercoaster after chugging along on the G3 kiddy train out here near Playa Colonia. Damn. I miss massive bandwidth. I have about 12 app updates queued up on my phone. Even when I tap a wireless connection at a local restaurant, I’m lucky to get one or two apps downloaded during a meal.

Same sunset, new view

I trundled up the the shack yesterday with low expectations. A light rain had given way to general cloudiness, but I still got a show. At first, a sliver of orange zipper formed between the sea and sky, then the clouds caught fire. I shot a few of the usual views and noticed the scene was being reflected in the window of the gutted Suzuki 4×4 that’s sitting on blocks next to the shack. So that’s what I went with.

Sunset reflected in the Suzuki.

5 seconds of surf and other beach scenes

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Saturday, September 8

I’m heading to the farmers market in a bit, so instead of a barrage of words today, here’s a quick walk on the beach, shot here at Playa Colonia in Uvita, Costa Rica. Enjoy your weekend.

Looking south. That distant peninsula crowned by clouds is Osa.
Nothing to see here. Just the sea.
A surf fisherman tries his luck.
Gratuitous flower photo 1.
Gratuitous flower photo 2.

It’s tough to beat a day spent in a hammock

The Whale’s Tail in the morning …

Friday, September 7

Since the nightly rains have swamped my sunset ascents to the shack, I’ve started going up in the morning. Took the machete with me yesterday to attack some weeds that were encroaching on the driveway. I arrived at the top an hour or two past high tide, so the Whale’s Tail was clearly discernible from the surf breaking on it. The Osa Peninsula, a dark, shadowy stretch of land that juts out into the Pacific south of us, was crowned with ominous clouds. It definitely was raining there, but here in Uvita it was sunshine and hummingbirds. At least at the time …

Yesterday was a cleaning day. I finally located a toilet brush and other cleaning supplies, so I put the Treeehouse in order. It was getting a tad grungy. I also did laundry. Those hikes into town produce a lot of sweaty clothes.

My view for the day.

I decided to stay on site, spending most of the afternoon reading Darkness Visible, a fictionalized account of the Homestead strike that I recently stumbled across. The author, Trilby Busch, did a nice job, especially in her description of the late 19th Century steelmaking process and of what Homestead looked like back in the day. She did extensive research, and it shows. Busch tells the story from the viewpoint of Welsh immigrants, and while overall the writing is solid, I’m getting impatient. I catch myself skimming large chunks as the characters flirt and bicker. There’s method to her madness since I think she’s really plumbing the class and social distinctions of the time, but I’d love to edit it down to about half its current size. (We get more “dumb hunkies,” but not in her words; we see that prejudice through the eyes of one of the characters discriminating against them. Her portrayal of them is sympathetic, if passing.) Halfway through the book, we’re still months away from the strike itself. I think some of my problems are specific to what I’m trying to get out of it. To be honest, it would make a great TV movie. Lots of little interrelated dramas in the shadow of a big, looming crisis. The characters are generally well-developed and their motivations feel true. We’ll see if it picks up as we get closer to the climax.

After a few hours of reading, I wrested myself from the hammock and made good use of all the veggies I bought at the farmers market Wednesday. Green beans. Asparagus. Rice. And a few cheese tortillas. Perfect in its simplicity. True to form, evening vespers were swamped so I studied Spanish for a while before listening to lessons on writing dialogue in the fiction course I’m working through. That inspired me to crank out Chapter 2 of my book, but I hated it as I wrote it and really had to force myself to see it through. I already was up and tinkering this morning. I’m finding that if I take a day or three after I write something, I often hit a eureka moment when I return to it. Hoping that will be the case here. I think I’ve already substantially upgraded the opening scene.

Are a thousand words worth a picture?

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Thursday, September 6

A scene from yesterday’s beach combing.

These posts have become a torrent of words, partially because uploading images puts nasty dents in my Kolbi phone account balance, but also because my humble iPhone SE leaves a lot to be desired as a camera. When I do find a wireless network, the data trickles more than it streams.

So we’re left with words, Thousands of them. And the occasional photo, like the one above.  I know this stands in opposition to everything the Internet has devolved to. Lo siento, amigos.

At the farmers market yesterday I stocked up on asparagus, green beans, papaya, mangos, bananas and onions. I looked at the homemade peanut butter one woman was selling, but 7,000 colones for a big jar struck me as batshit. That’s about $14 bucks, more than I spent on everything else combined. So instead I stopped at el supermercado later to pick up a few cans of tuna (packed with jalapeños) for those times I need a quick jolt of protein. I haven’t eaten meat (with the exception of seafood) since leaving the States. Not missing it much, especially when I can grab a lunch like the one I had yesterday for about 10 bucks.

There’s a soda, or small hole-in-the-wall restaurant, right next-door to PurVita. It’s called El Nueva Jungla and is run by a 40s-ish man and a younger woman whom I believe is his daughter. I had a generous helping of Ceviche de Pez and followed up with Arroz con Mariscos, which included a small side salad and fries. The rice and seafood was swimming with clams, mussels, white fish and crab. All for $4 bucks less than that jar of peanut butter would have cost. While I ate, the owner switched on the TV news out of San José, where they were paying tribute to Javier Rojas González, a radio sports journalist who recently died at 79. I was proud to be able to follow along, vaguely, as they discussed his life and career in Spanish. Working men arrived at the soda one by one, ordering lunch to go. While I ate extravagantly, you can get a solid meal there for about 4 or 5 bucks. I was impressed, once again, with Tico ingenuity. The takeout meals included drinks poured into plastic bags, presumably to be consumed via straw at their destination. It made it a lot easier to tote four or five drinks than it would have with styrofoam cups. Probably cheaper, too.

I bracketed my trip to the soda with a pair of visits to the beach. I normally walk along the highway to the Wednesday farmers market and then return via the beach since there’s an unguarded entrance near the market and I can slip in without paying the $6/day fee. Not this time. A polite but firm guard collected my fee, which I paid in colones. So I figured If I’m going to pay, I’m getting my fill of saltwater and sand. I spent time watching the waves in the morning during my hike home, sitting beside a backpack bristling with fruits and veggies and a giant bag of bananas. I returned after my lunch at the soda for more. I saw a pair of osprey shriek overhead while a fisherman worked the surf, tossing a treble hook out, yanking the line back in quick, short bursts to snag schooling fish in the churning water. It’s the best 6 bucks I spent yesterday. Any day, for that matter.

I spent a few hours in the evening banging my head off a Spanish book. Then the rains came, not as violently this time, but persistently, lasting well past midnight. I closed the night listening to a 2014 George Clinton interview on the New York Public Radio podcast. Damn, that’s one funky guy. He discussed some of the details of the recording of Maggot Brain and how the Parliaments morphed from a Motown-focused outfit to the mashup of Funk and psychedelia they ultimately became. “We were too black for white people, and too white for black people,” he said. But somewhere in there, they found an audience, a yin-yang of fans who defied categories and got funked up.

The mechanical cacophony of nature

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Wednesday, September 5

Now I know what they call it a rain forest.

I could see the day building toward a storm, and it delivered. I almost tried to beat it with a dash down to the local soda for a late lunch but thankfully I stayed put. It’s not so much the intensity of the rain that surprised me. It’s how sustained it was. It didn’t let up for a while. I’d been feeling a bit down leading up to it. The impending storm scrambled my mind, and I was brooding over one of our rental houses in Athens that needs a major repair. The Book also was clouding my disposition. I spent much of the day organizing sources and thoughts.. I have a lot of stuff floating around in my files. Links to newspaper articles. Half starts on The Book. Dead-end ideas. Schemes that just might work. Character sketches. This has been percolating in my mind for well over a decade. So I’m trying to sort through it to figure out what’s worth keeping, what isn’t. I made a lot of progress and I think, perhaps, a breakthrough on how I want to handle the “supernatural” element of it. I was terrified of cranking out a weak imitation of George Saunders’ Lincoln the the Bardo. He’s brilliant. I’m not. I need to heed my limitations and write to my strengths. I think I found a way.

Random butterfly/moth thingy that sat still long enough for me to snap its photo.

As the gloom of the day built, I plugged away, finally getting cranky at the nettlesome gnats buzzing my ears. I called it quits, deciding to head up to the Treehouse to lie down for a bit. Then the thunder cranked up like a hot-wired Harley and the rains came. And came. And came. I couldn’t sleep for the roar of it so I stepped out onto the Treehouse’s deck. Deep breaths, sucking in the cool breeze that arrived with the water. Hey, this was proving cathartic, calming.

Though that lightning strike right THERE pushed catharsis to adrenaline, the difference between a relaxing sencha green tea and a triple shot of espresso. At times, it doesn’t even sound like thunder. More like a cannonade. BOOM boom boom boomboomboom as it bounces pinball-like around the surrounding mountains before drifting off into the Pacific.

As the rain faded, the denizens of the jungle started to party. The cicadas rose up in a roar reminiscent of spaceships taking off in 1950s sci-fi movies. I’m astounded at how mechanical nature can sound. A monotonous whoop whoop whoop whoop drones on like a distant car alarm. The first time I heard it, I was convinced it was a car alarm. I”m guessing some sort of frog? ¿Quien sabe? Another sounded like submarine sonar pinging through the jungle. The birds clucked and chattered. Even my house gecko, Chuckles, joined in with a joyous croaking. I never realized they made noise, yet alone noise so profundo. Sometimes Chuckles feels the need to let loose at 3 a.m. I keep a flashlight next to the bed so I can paw around in the blackness to locate it, click it on and shine it in his general direction. Silence. (Jeff advised me to keep a flashlight nearby and use it for nocturnal trips to the bathroom. You really don’t want to step on some stingy bitey thing in the middle of the night when you’re packing a full bladder.)

Stoic mill Hunkies, Medieval monsters and the Grapes of Wrath

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Tuesday, September 4

Treehouse selfie before setting off to explore Uvita.

I awoke at 2 a.m. to kettledrumming thunder and rain pinging the metal roof. That might explain the odd dreams I had. Nothing frightening. Just a series of non sequiturs related to people and events I was pondering yesterday.

I spent yesterday morning plowing through info on the Homestead strike that I downloaded from, an incredible resource for materials in the public domain. The one I spent the most time with was “’Fort Frick,’ or the Siege of Homestead,” published in 1893 by Myron R. Stowell. The strike had occurred a year earlier and Stowell was present for many of the events he describes. Strangely, I couldn’t find much trace of him otherwise when I started Googling around for more info.

There are a lot of fascinating details here. He clearly sympathizes with the strikers, but he calls out their excesses, too, and I wouldn’t say he portrays Frick as a villain. His summary of the congressional investigation into the Pinkertons is great. I downloaded that document from too. It’s dense and circuitous. Congress hasn’t changed much.

Stowell does indulge the stereotyping of the day, as in this passage where he describes the funeral of one of the slain strikers:

They were typical Hungarians—stoical, morose and silent, but their countenances reflected their feelings and left an impression upon the keen observer that the bitter experiences of the recent past would never be forgotten. Aye, and the sins of their enemies would never be forgiven! Stoically, morosely and silently they drank in the words of the man in the pulpit, and then, when it was time for them to sing, they chanted a weird dirge, which harmonized with the tragic circumstances. There were but eight women in the audience, and eight women among three hundred brawny men who were burying a comrade thus, could not be expected to exert that gentle influence which softens hearts of steel and causes men to forget they have been injured. When the minister denounced the Pinkertons as a lawless mob, there was no audible expression—the Hungarians’ glares grew fiercer and they set their teeth together more firmly. That was all.

I hiked into town around 11 a.m. By lunchtime, I was looking for a place to eat and spotted the shady seating at House of Ginger. And they have wireless. Overall, I was underwhelmed on all counts. The food was OK but certainly didn’t fulfill the 4.5 star online reviews I’d read. It reminded me of the Chinese food you’d get at the food court at a mall. And the wireless was slow, but that’s pretty much par for the course here in Uvita.

After grabbing a handful of colones at the bank, I made my way to the beach to watch the waves for a while. I easily logged 6 miles on the excursion, raising new blisters as I went.

Back at PurUvita I showered and dug into John Gardner’s “The Art of Fiction,” which is packed with gems reminding me why I love his writing.

Where lumps and infelicities occur in fiction, the sensitive reader shrinks away a little, as we do when an interesting conversationalist picks his nose.

The real reason I’m studying him, though, is for his critical prowess. He ruffled a lot of feathers, calling out writers and writing he found inferior. I am particularly taking the following passage on John Steinbeck, whom I love, to heart:

Witness John Steinbeck’s failure in The Grapes of Wrath. It should have been one of America’s great books. But while Steinbeck knew all there was to know about Okies and the countless sorrows of their move to California to find work, he knew nothing about the California ranchers who employed and exploited them; he had no clue to, or interest in, their reasons for behaving as they did; and the result is that Steinbeck wrote not a great and firm novel but a disappointing melodrama in which complex good is pitted against unmitigated, unbelievable evil.

Sunset from the third floor of the kitchen/bar building at PurUvita.

I almost canceled evening vespers last night. A light rain was falling, so I went up to the third-floor deck of the kitchen/bar area, which has a nice view of the Pacific and the sunset. But when it became clear the rain was not going to become a torrent, I scampered up the hill in time to catch the view from the shack. Two for the price of one.

And sunset from the shack after I raced up there …

In the afterglow, I listened to the latest installment of Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast, which was on the Mexican leader Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato era sets up the revolutionary tumult to come in 1910. Duncan dropped this quote from Díaz, which seems as relevant today as it did in his time:

Poor Mexico, so far from god, so close to the United States.

I closed the night with another episode of the History of English podcast, where Kevin Stroud discussed “The Birth of English Song.” I’ve enjoyed this podcast so much I purchased his “Beowulf Deconstructed: The Old English of Beowulf.” It’s in the queue, along with Maria Dahvana Headley’s “The Mere Wife,” a contemporary retelling of Beowulf with feminist themes, and Seamus Heaney’s beautiful translation of the epic into modern English. (I listen to or read the Heaney translation at least once a year.) While I’m at it, maybe I’ll download and reread Gardner’s Grendel, which casts the story from the monster’s perspective. I’ve exposed another obsession, I suppose …

The agouti speaks and the stars shine on Uvita

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Monday, September 3

Sunday night’s sunset

After several ho-hum sunsets in a row, last night’s was a stunner, perhaps the best I’ve witnessed from my perch atop the hill. But the best was yet to come.

Generally, clouds roll in around sunset and when there aren’t clouds, the moon has been at or near its full phase. For a brief time last night, before the gibbous waning moon rose, the skies cleared and the stars burst forth. Venus dominated the western sky while the southern sky was sizzling with stars. It lasted only about an hour before the rising moon put a damper on things. New moon is Sunday and I’m praying we get at least one clear evening around then.

Soursop, still has a way to go …

I had a much-needed conversation with Lara yesterday. I miss her terribly. She assured me all is going well at home, and I assured her I’m not putting heads on stakes atop the hill while creating a demented jungle empire down here. As we talked, I sat on the deck of the Treehouse watching yellow fly-catchers snag bugs mid-flight in fits of acrobatics. They’re becoming one of my favorite birds here. Big personalities and total showoffs.

On the way up to the shack for evening vespers I managed to spook an agouti, who let out a strange series of guttural yet high-pitched grunts while bunny-hopping away from me. He stopped briefly and when I started talking to him (I talk to agouti frequently here) he panicked again, disappearing in a swirl of underbrush and distress sounds.

A few of the remaining rambutan after the raid.

And finally, someone raided the rambutan (mamón china) tree, ravaging much of the ripe fruit and greatly diminishing what I had considered my own personal strategic reserve. The offender likely was avian. In response, I gorged myself on most of the remaining fruit rather than risk losing it in a second attack. I also surveyed the other fruit trees on the property. The pineapples are going great guns, and I pulled a beautiful lime off the lime tree. The soursop still have a way to go but they’re cool looking as hell …

Rest in peace, noble AirPods

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Sunday, September 2

The nearby hoots of howlers burst into my room this morning. Those are my peeps. I know those guys. I wonder if that’s Big Balls leading the chorus …

The rest of yesterday felt anticlimactic after my monkey encounter. I went on a supply run earlier in the day and spent most of the afternoon reading. When it came time for evening vespers, I almost bailed, listening warily to distant thunder-rumble in the mountains, dreading the thought of getting caught under a metal-roofed shack on a hill.

But then I said, what the hell. You only live once.

It looked as if the storm might skirt north of me so I ascended the driveway. But at sunset — 5:43 p.m., to be exact — the clouds closed pincerlike, forcing sol to sink with a whimper.

Thunder bolt and lightning

very very frightening me

Clouds move in to muffle the sunset.

This poor boy fandangoed down the gravel driveway amid bangs and flashes and rainfall. After a dinner of leftover veggie calzone, I listened to the next lecture of Writing Great Fiction, the Great Courses audiobook I’m working through. That spawned a few hours of fevered keyboard pecking as I did that lecture’s exercise and started fleshing out a few key characters I want to introduce in The Book. The whole time, the sound of rainfall punctuated a series of albums I listened to — Open (Cowboy Junkies), Maggot Brain (Funkadelic), and Faithless Street (Whiskey Town). Three very different yet common-themed masterpieces. Eddie Hazel’s guitar work on the song “Maggot Brain” is simply brilliant. It’s criminal that he doesn’t fully get his due while we drool over every outtake available from Jimi Hendrix.

All of this, sadly, was heard via portable speaker. While it sounds good, it’s no match for my AirPods. After 72 hours on rice, I pulled my recently laundered gadgets out, plugged them in and … nothing. DOA. They did not survive a vigorous spin in the washing machine. Can’t say I’m surprised. But I already miss them.

AirPods, a Eulogy (2016-2018)

Me and my AirPods during happier times.

Rest in Peace, my friends. Your time on this mortal coil was not in vain, short as it might have been.

You let me smile benignly at 30,000 feet while infants screamed and jet engines droned.

You filled me with the History of English as I walked SunnyDog through bucolic Athens.

You helped me get my head around Alan Moore’s epic, wonderful, astounding, confounding Jerusalem

You pissed me off when you popped and blipped and fizzed, trying to stay in phase

You made a middle-aged man look kinda cool while he rocked across campus with a head full of Hot Tuna.

You freed me from the tyranny of the tether, letting me pace the halls during endless conference calls.

You roamed the beaches of Uvita, filling my head with Mexican revolutions and revisionist histories.

You proved these damned millennials aren’t so bad, especially the one who endured my Apple Fanboy taunts and finally convinced me to buy you.

You converted me from hater to evangelist, preaching your merits to my wife and all who would listen

Fare thee well. I’ll think of you every time that damned cord rips the earbuds out of my head, making the music stop.

Odds and sods

I’ve spotted two new-to-me birds in the past few days. The first were a pair of kites who were being harassed by yellow fly-catchers up near the shack. I heard them first, which prompted me to start scanning for hawks. I know that sound. Then I spotted them. The agitation of the nearby fly-catchers confirmed they were raptors, and based on size and color, I’m confident they were kites.

The second was a pair of birds it took me a while to ID, and I’m not certain I have it right. But I’m pretty sure. They were hopping around in the trees long the driveway, eating berries and making a godawful racket. I believe they were brown jays based on the white underside, brown top and shrieks which sound very much like the bluejays at home.