Cloudforests with Alison

February 5, 2013

Pookaverse spent some time apart for the first time in 5 months and survived.

Alison wanted to go and see Cloudforests but Rohan didn’t fancy the 3 hour bus journey so stayed in San Ramon.

i wouldn't want to find this under by bed.

i wouldn’t want to find this under by bed.

Strung between two lovingly preserved cloudforests is this slim corridor of civilization which consists of the Tico village of Santa Elena and the Quaker settlement of Monteverde. A 1983 article in National Geographic described this unique landscape and subsequently billed the area as the place to view one of Central America’s most famous birds – the resplendent quetzal. Suddenly, hordes of tourists armed with tripods and telephoto lenses started braving Monteverde’s notoriously awful access roads, which came as a huge shock to the then established Quaker community.

In an effort to stem the tourist flow, local communities lobbied to stop developers from paving the roads. And it worked. Today, the dirt roads leading to Monteverde and Santa Elena have effectively created a moat around this precious experiment in sustainable eco tourism.


Having survived the bus journey, most of it spent standing, it was a quick check in then off to Monteverde Reserve with 3 other volunteers met on the bus. Two from Sweden, one from the UK. We were lucky enough to see a family of coati  (from the racoon family) within minutes of entering the reserve.  The reserve was beautiful, quiet and peaceful with some awesome views. Luckily the cloud in this cloudforest remained quite high so we could enjoy the spectacular surroundings. We also saw a group of white faced capuchin monkeys playing in the undergrowth.

Volcan Arenal in the distance

Volcan Arenal in the distance

The next day it was the turn of Santa Elena Cloud Forest, a fraction of the size of Monteverde Reserve but this exquisitely misty reserve was a joy to spend time in. It stands at a slightly higher elevation than Monteverde and has a stable population of  Sloth and monkeys. The place is moist, and almost all of the water comes as fine mist, more than 25% of all the biomass in the forest are epiphytes, mosses and lichens, for which this place is a humid haven.

Coati snuffling for goodies

Coati snuffling for goodies

Volcan Arenal can be seen in the distance. The trail through the reserve was slightly spoilt by a group of young people of mixed nationalities who thought it hysterical to imitate animal calls during the walk and then wonder why they didn’t see anything!


The area of Monteverde and Santa Elena offers all kind of excitement such as zip wires, bungee jumping etc but I just opted for the Nightwalk and had a fabulous time. I saw a two toed sloth and its baby, an armadillo, two highly poisonous snakes, a tarantula, several sleeping birds – a toucan with its beak tucked under its wing ( very inconsiderate), and several other unpronounceable named mammals. All fantastic to see but impossible to photograph. You will just have to take my word for it.

Sunset from my Hotel room in Santa Elena

Sunset from my Hotel room in Santa Elena

The return bus from Monteverde left at 6.30am and this time I had a seat but it turned out to be the wrong seat – Doctors handwriting on the ticket caused the problem – anyway I am sure  standing is much better for the circulation!



February 5, 2013

Hallo from Pookaverse. Time for a quick update.

Pookaverse arrived in Panama City this afternoon and are currently staying here at the Toscana Inn Hotel. A mercifully uneventful flight from Costa Rica. Business Class. Yes I know. But there was no other way. All the other seats were sold out. In August 2012?!?. How does that work?!? We don’t know.

The Little Yellow House near San Ramon replaces the concrete bus shelter in Gdansk where teenagers skin-up

The Little Yellow House near San Ramon replaces that concrete bus shelter in Gdansk where teenagers go to ‘skin-up’

It has been an interesting couple of days. On Saturday we said goodbye to Greta and Gavi. And Loki (Lucky) and Luna (Moon). It proved quite difficult after four weeks spent in their universe. And a large universe it has proven to be. Filled with friends and family – a Tico characteristic. And topped up with plenty of hard work in Greta’s case. A seamstress and entrepreneur (Empesario) all wrapped up in one.

The fine art of varnishing an internal door is today's lesson. Who new that a perfect finish could be achieved so easily...well Hilberto knows how anyway

The fine art of varnishing an internal door is today’s lesson. Who new that a perfect finish could be achieved so easily…well Hilberto knows how anyway

As well as being an excellent cook. Our last meal. American pancakes better than Pookaverse has ever tasted. With melon and those little bananas that the Tico’s prefer. Remember?

They send us all the big tasteless ones. Like the nightly ritual demanded by Greta to tell her English jokes translated into Spanish. Jokes. Possibly the crack-cocaine of misunderstanding. THe way to display the gulf that can exist between taste and culture. However it seems that “Death or Mau-Mau” in Spanish is greeted just as heartily as it is in English.

The final pile of 'Satan's tagnuts' are removed from the front of the house...much to Tonkey's delight

The final pile of back-wrenching stones aka ‘Satan’s tagnuts’ are removed from the front of the house…much to Tonkey’s delight

As is “…and then the man said to the clown “Fuck you, you red-nosed bastard”. And of course not to forget “A man goes into a pet shop and says “I’d like to buy a wasp please”.

And 'Britney-Gaga' is no more...dumped into a stinking ditch of waste water, heat, filth and Mosquitos...(sigh)

And ‘Britney-Gaga’ is no more…dumped into a stinking ditch of waste water, heat, filth and Mosquitos…(sigh)

Except that in the Spanish translation,  the wasp was exchanged for a fly as there aren’t are wasps in Costa Rica. Well. Save for the species that hunts down, paralyses and via the process of seeding its young eviscerates its prey over a period of 6 weeks. The red-knee Tarantula.

The previous day it was farewell to Hilberto and Sonia and a demanding 4 weeks working to get them moved in to their new house. They never did make it on the previous Wednesday. Whether it be optimism of simply the forgotten notion of ‘Tico time’ or ‘Tico-timing’ all four of us volunteering will never know.  No more cries of  “Cafe, Cafe”  literally half an hour after we have picked up tools. Then it is down tools and into their nearby rented house that looked increasingly shabby as we painted, varnished and buffed their new home to a fine lustre.

Tony  (Hilberto's dog) will never be patted by Rohan again or throw his neck at breaking speed against his chain...

Tony (Hilberto’s dog) will never be patted by Rohan again or throw his neck at breaking speed against his chain…

That excellent Costa Rican coffee. Made and serverd piping hot by Costa Ricans with the occasional baffling Tico version of ‘cake’ thrown in. You may not taste any better. You may disagree. There is latitude. Just not much of it. But to disavow Sonia’s home made banana pancakes served hot from the frying pan – immaculate in their conception – is culinary blasphemy.

No more “Me no Yankee, Yankee No!” Or the impenetrable, colloquial Spanish spoken by Hilberto that so frequently turned into a setup for one of his jokes.  Or the bliss of sitting down on a hard wooden stool under a hot-tin roof that no self-respecting feline would brush with their undercarriage after a morning’s ‘barrowing’. With the sun, sweat and filth. The dirt that is everywhere.  No concrete. Just dirt streets and dirt pavements. With no where for the failing winter rains to run to.

Loki (Lucky) with his ball...don't let that fluffy cuteness take you in...that ball is life and death...

Loki (Lucky) Greta’s dog with his ball…don’t let that fluffy cuteness take you in…that ball is life and death…yours

The washing machines turning petulantly in the almost daily struggle of Hilberto and his neighbours to have clean clothes. And be separate. From the dirt. And the sweat. And the filth.

So we have left that all behind us now. Mission accomplished. And fell into a strange enclave that exists less than 3 driving minutes from Alajuela Airport (Juan Santamaria Intl Airport). There lies Gringo paradise. Holiday Inn, Hampton suites, Car Rental, a Dennys amd most prominent of all. A casino. With wall-to-wall Gringo’s. Costa Rican bouncers at the door and Costa Riocan barman. Well. Behind the bar. This is the land of the expanding waist-band. Stone-cold immaculate.

The final night with from left to right, Greta, Forrest, Alison, Fabriellla who is a friend of Greta's daughter Gavi on the extreme right

The final night with from left to right, Greta, Forrest, Alison, Fabriellla who is a friend of Greta’s daughter Gavi on the extreme right

A familiar sight and smell when Pookaverse toured the States last century. A fabrication convincingly conveyed.  But still a fabrication. One of those moments when you could have been anywhere. In the middle of nowhere. With cable and peculiar bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. Not the soul food that has powered hearts, minds and muscles for the past 4 weeks. Strangely impotent.

Pookaverse’s salve? Watching ‘The Gauntlet’ with Clint Eastwood and nearly-wife Sondra Locke. With Spanish subtitles. Marvelling when Clint encounters a tirade of gunshots and responds with “Poderanse” or something that approximates to that sound. “Fuck me”. The hooms have decided to keep the Spanish going for as long as possible. Even after the ‘feel-good’ glow that we from time to time like to disparage on those who dare to take holiday and slink back into work over what seems an unnatural and unhealthy absence.

So it was with little ceremony that we departed Costa Rica this morning. To find ourselves in Panama City. And tomorrow. Pookaverse is off to the Miraflores Locks on only the bloody Panama Canal. Pictures to follow.

The thirteen palms of San Ramon that Pookaverse hooms saw each night on their walk home from work...small things, small things.....

The thirteen palms of San Ramon that Pookaverse hooms saw each night on their walk home from work…small things, small things…..

To close an itinerary. As between days and digging, the following plan has emerged for the final month of the trip:

Panama City 04-07 February

Cuba 07-20 February. 3 nights in Havana and 11 days in the ‘all inclusive’ Gringo Enclave of Valadero

New York 20 February to the 02 March. Staying for 9 days in a rented apartment in the Bedford-Stuvyesant district of Brooklyn, New York including a trip to the Prudential Centre in Newark to watch the home game of the New Jersey Devils as they take on the Winnipeg Jets. Even$115 million dollar ‘Kovey‘ may be playing for the Devils on that day. At least one thing is guaranteed. There will be fighting.

If we can get back in of course. Back in and around to full circle. Pookaverse will, of course, let you know what happens next.

Paradise by any other name would…

January 27, 2013

Hallo from Pookaverse.  As an antidote to the slush and ice. As services prolapse and the British way of life is further burdened by meteorological zealots. Take up arms fellow citizens of Albion. Drag them from their podiums. twist the clouds, lightening bolts and snowfall out of their palms. Spill their auto-cues over. Slap their faces. And where possible. Split their fecundity with a bright kick to their danglies. So that they will not breed. They must not breed. It is in your hands. Expiation. Expiation. EXPIATION!!!

The boat is boarded, cameras stowed and soon we will be flipping well off

The boat is boarded, cameras stowed and hopefully bloody-soon we will be flipping-well off

In this post.  Some photographs taken last weekend when Pookaverse visited Montezuma. It is on the Southernmost tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. And what could at best be described as a tropical beach side paradise. And at worst a gringo faux-enclave populated by crusty jugglers, deadbeat surfers, greasy dreadlocks by the pound and lives so charmed that only Satan herself could have granted.

Candidates for the location of IN-GEN's headquarters and principal dinosaur-boffing fun palace line up for a group photo

Candidates for the location of IN-GEN’s headquarters and principal dinosaur-boffing fun palace line up for a group photo

And tea. Yes that’s right. A box of 25 Twining’s tea bags imported all the way from blighty for £4.20.  Judging by the triple-dip recession that will be greeting Pookaverse on our return. A bargain. We will save you one or two.

The trip to Montezuma entails approximately 5 hours of travel from our home stay base in San Ramon where we go to work each morning on the 08:00 bus to Hilberto’s emerging pad.

...leaving the 'big bit' of Costa Rica behind...

…leaving the ‘big bit’ of Costa Rica behind…

First it is a bus to the coast. A journey of approximately 90 minutes winding down from this temperate mountain town to the seaside town of Puntarenas. Like Rhyll, North Wales with sun with the same loose collection of very unsavoury individuals, ne-er do-wells and swivel-eyed loiterers.

Don't let anyone ever tell you that being jiggled around like a big nancy for 5 hours isn't worth this view...

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that being jiggled around like a big nancy for 5 hours isn’t worth this view…

There was a temperature display on the coach. Westarted at 22 degrees and  gained 2 degrees for each 8km travelled – all 44 of them. Until it was 32 degrees. I

Observing bus station protocol (watch yourself) , Pookaverse, Ann and Jacob took the taxi to the ferry terminal for £2. And then boarded this car transporter for the 70 minute journey across the Gulf of Nicoya. The stretch of water that separates the Nicoya peninsular from the rest of Costa Rica. It’s either this or a 5-6 hour journey around the peninsular itself to St Theresa – another popular gringo resort – and then on to Montezuma.

Fortuitously a rather distasteful exercise regime had just ended and the view wobbled back into focus

Fortuitously a rather distasteful exercise regime had just ended and the view wobbled back into focus

From the ship it is possible to see islands and islets including San Lucas Island and about a dozen or so candidates for the fictional location of Isla Sorna – the fictional island setting of Michael Crichton’s ‘Jurassic Park’. Later substantiated by Steven Spielberg’s film of the same name.

Disembark at Paquera. Then another grueling 90-minute journey by over-crowded coach to Montezuma with the last 20km on dry dirt roads. For accommodation, Pookaverse splashed out a bit. Partly due to the availability of accommodation and the rueful acceptance that the hosteling days are long behind both hooms. Choosing to stay at the Hotel Luz de Mono or ‘Monkeyshine’.  The hotel is called this for good reason. Initially quiet as we went up the concrete ramp to our room set back into jungle and  after the temperature touched a bracing 34 degress at 2pm.

Alison braves the 'urbanised ' jungle and the surrogate aim of the Capuchin monkeys above...

Alison braves the ‘urbanised ‘ jungle and the surrogate aim of the Capuchin monkeys above…

Then at about 6pm as it starts to get dark here the smaller white-faced- Capuchin monkeys start to make their way out of the trees. Playing, sometimes fighting and occasionally pooing on the unwary. Though not much evidence of the infamous poo-flinging reserved for terrified visitors to the monkey house’s of the world’s zoos. An act with a universal translation.

The howler monkeys kicked off shortly afterwards. Invisible amongst the higher branches. What to describe? Not so much a howl as a long, loud baying grunt. Not really simian. More human in origin. Almost as if Andy Serkis himself was loping up and down the high branches. A human interpretation of a monkey grunt at maximum volume. Maybe he had a PA? Maybe some poo. Something to be investigated later. Or just left well alone.

Where Pookaverse went to hide from Andy Serkis and his 'accomplished' baying...

Where Pookaverse went to hide from Andy Serkis and his ‘accomplished’ baying…

Central Montezuma itself can be walked in under two minutes. It does appear to be idyllic in most respects. If you want the beach by day and a choice of three bars and 8 restaurants by night. A supermarket. A gourmet ice-cream parlour that was breathtakingly air-conditioned and breathtakingly priced.

2 supermarkets and numerous ‘high-end’ shops to seperate dollars from the American and Canadian travellers in the majority who were based in and around Montezuma. One such Canadian couple gave Pookaverse the MO on Cuba where Pookaverse will be visiting from 07 February for 14 days. Tales of impoverishment and improvisation. However. That’s in two weeks and not for now.


On the way to Montezuma Falls…could be the opening verse of a song….

Perhaps Canadians are the nicest people in the world? Except for French Canadians who have proven both touchy and foul on this trip. Our Canadian friends whispered in agreement. Cuba, or at least Valadero in Cuba is a magnet for them apparently. We either stand corrected on this point or will take pictures. You can’t have both.

On Sunday we laboured over a rocky river bed in flip-flops with Ann and Jacob to go to Momtezuma’s premier attraction – Montezuma Falls. A three-tiered natural waterfall that promised a spectacle and a cool dip. The promise was kept on arrival. Before 10am. Before the ‘crowds’ of Gringos and Ticos that descended on the site shortly after we arrived. A jungle dip? Nothing quite like it.

The splendid bottom tier of the Montezuma Falls... the water is as good as it looks when it is 30 degrees

The splendid bottom tier of the Montezuma Falls… the water is as good as it looks when it is 30 degrees

Then back to the main beach to take on the slightly tall and scary waves. Simple fun costs nothing. Just as watching the large flock of brown pelicans in formation overhead, diving like kamikazes for fish or skimming the surface of the water in line formation with such agile, nonchalant grace that seems impossible for such an ungainly and ,well ‘prehistoric-looking’ bird. Montezuma also has a leatherback turtle sanctuary where periodically the staff and volunteers place a baby turtle at the top of the beach for the tourists.

Ann takes a picture before taking a dip at Montezuma Falls

Ann takes a picture before taking a dip at Montezuma Falls

We learnt that this dash to the ocean must be recreated for nature’s sake. Even thought for this fortunate soul, none of the usual predators stood by. And if they did would probably be killed on sight. Such would be the outrage. The will of the assembled to see justice done.

Pookaverse stood for 45 minutes watching this struggle in miniature as the volunteers raked the sand in front of the creature to encourage the right texture. As it flailed its way to the ocean. Between the 40-strong honour-guard of tanned walking cameras, ipads and mobile phones.

The red-headed water sprite of the forgotten oubliette attempts to lure another unfortunate to their solitary dismemberment

The red-headed water sprite of the forgotten oubliette attempts to lure another unfortunate to their solitary dismemberment


It seemed a private moment made somehow vulgar. And a relief when at the surf-line. Knocked back twice. This tiny, floundering creature disappeared in a wash of glistening foam and out into a vastness difficult beyond sound or sight.

Last week at the building site this week. Pictures to follow. And. Pookaverse will of course let you know what happens next.

Me No Yankee, Yankee No!

January 22, 2013

Pookaverse has been reading the weather reports from back where you are. With grinding disbelief. Again? Another winter that the world’s sixth largest economy fails to cope with. Perennially  surely it is enough for everyone.  Do the bare-arsed monkeys at the top of the tree get it yet? The climate has changed. England per se, is colder and wetter. We have snow that the bookies won’t touch.

Over the weekend, progress on the house moves on apace. Despite which, Tonkey the dog looks distinctly unimpressed

Over the weekend, progress on the house moves on apace. Despite which, Tonkey the next-door neighbours dog looks distinctly unimpressed

More of monkeys later. And a country and more importantly a town where snow has never fallen. Well only once. On the mountains that look into the cathedral. Only for a few minutes. One day in June.

The excruciating delight after delivering barrow 15 to across the road to the bottom of the neighbour's garden

The excruciating euphoria after delivering barrow 15 just after 09:30 across the road to the bottom of the neighbour’s garden

Pookaverse completed the earth-moving part of the programme today. Tomorrow it’s painting. the exterior of the house. The windows are in. And Hilberto’s son Heraldo is tiling the floor.

The earth moved has almost covered Tony's house. Approximately 3 metric tonnes by hand, bucket and barrow

The earth moved has almost covered Tony’s house. Approximately 1.5 metric tonnes by hand, bucket and barrow…It is now called Tony’s fortress

It is a family of builders that we are helping. By doing the less technical jobs so that the experts can crack on. With the electrics. Tiling and the New Window scheme that has appeared over the weekend.

Our burden made light by Hilberto. Amongst his many qualities including a colloquial level of Spanish that would distract the unworthy. Humour. It goes something like this.

Jacob and Rohan raise their tools in triumph after the declaration "No Terra Excavacion Manama"...

Jacob and Rohan raise their tools in triumph after the declaration “No Terra Excavacion Manana”…

Ann and Alison's triumph is a little less subtle...

Ann and Alison’s triumph is a little less subtle…

Hilberto. Who has had many volunteers on the project. Including Americans. Will suddenly perform a little dance while strumming an imaginary guitar. “Yankee”, “Yankee” he will shout and indicate towards the four gringo’s working in the heavy-set clay and the garbage. “Me no Yankee” comes the reply. “Ok” says Hilberto, “No Yankee”. Ten minutes later the same performance. “Yankee”, “Yankee”. And so it goes on all day. Keeping hearts and loads light.

In a homage to pioneering photographer John C.H. Grabill, we show you how the west was won...

In a homage to pioneering photographer John C.H. Grabill, we show you How the West was Won…the west side of a little house somewhere east of San Ramon

Humour goes a long way. Humour is everything when there are no completely easy means to communicate.

Like seeing your first cow with a mouthful of milkshake

January 13, 2013

On Friday Morning (11/01). Before work. and before the morning coffee break that seems to happen just after you have thrown your first barrow or picked up the paint roller. Herraldo beckoned Pookaverse and the other volunteers into a coffee plantation across the road. Armed with a small white bucket, our small party picked its way through row after row of bushes grinning shiny green leaves. Surrounded by men and women straddling enormous baskets filled with what appeared to be red and green olives. Inside the single greasy, albino but recognisable bean.

Alison plucks a few beans for the bucket

Alison plucks a few beans for the bucket

For the next ten minutes Pookaverse picked coffee and watched the full manifestation of the term “labour intensive” as over two dozen workers lined up behind a flatbed. Their mornings pickings carefully measured and weighed out in an old catering-sized vegetable oil tin. Before being thrown over the shoulders by the administrator. Into the back of the flatbed. Presumably payment by measure. Men, women and their children of all ages.  Picking all day – at all times.

Pookaverse deposited its meagre collection into the swimming basket of a nearby worker...

Pookaverse deposited its meagre collection into the swimming basket of a nearby worker…

This is where it starts. In the worried hands of Ticos and Nicaraguan immigrants. From this plantation to processing in the site just 3/4 mile up the road. To shipping and a relatively clean shelf in Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda or Waitrose. Either in the Percolator or under the kettle – milk and two sugars. Or black.

Men and women line the access road waiting for their turn to be weighed and measured...and paid

Men and women line the access road waiting for their turn to be weighed and measured…and paid


We’ll tell you about the bananas that Tico’s like to eat. And the bananas that they don’t like to eat. Rather send to Europe instead. To appear on them same said shelves. On another weary Friday night excursion to Tescos. Or Sainsbury’s. Or Asda.

The business end where the beans are weighed and un cerimoniusly deposited in the back of the flatbed

The business end where the beans are weighed and un cerimoniusly deposited in the back of the flatbed

In not so many words

January 13, 2013

Hallo from Pookaverse. Both hooms mended with pills. From what can only be understood from the excellent Doctor speaking minimal English that we visited on Tuesday in San Ramon as a Streptococcus Infection. On examination, just so an image can evolve, both hooms throats were described under the tongue-depressor and a very long “Ahhhhhh” as “Roja y Amarillo” (Red and Yellow).

08:30 in the morning at the site...after the rickety 30 minute bus ride... and the 1.5km walk to work...

08:30 in the morning at the site…after the rickety 30 minute bus ride… and the 1.5km walk to work…

These infections appear to be carried by the wind when the climate in Costa Rica, of which there are two distinct seasons, changes from the high humidity of the Winter to Summer – July to November and December to June respectively.

Afflicting “Gringos” and “Ticos” with impunity.

Some remarks for those interested in healthcare abroad. Costa Rica operates no NHS-like support – all paid for at the point of need. So. A consultation with the doctor taking blood pressure, chest examination and several questions came to $92 for two. £57.02 or £28.51 each. That is before the prescribed medication. Apiece. 3 antibiotics, 6 anti-inflamatories and a small bottle of ‘mystery’.

It is unknown where this pile of stones will be going...but it is known how they will be getting there...

It is unknown where this pile of stones will be going…but it is known how they will be getting there…

Which, if understood correctly, provides a boost to the immune system. Total cost for two was £48.94. We pay via healthcare in the UK via direct taxation. The true cost of healthcare when up close is just plain ugly. Though the remedy works, the nightly convulsive coughing has abated.

However. Apologies for the drawn pauses between posts. A combination of illness, adjusting to the climate and getting down to some real work on the project for which both Pookaverse hooms have volunteered. All those months ago. Online. By email. Up close and personal.

Herraldo in front of his emerging home...Project Manager and Beneficiary

Herraldo in front of his emerging home…Project Manager and Beneficiary

In Costa Rica. At least it appears on the smaller construction projects into which we are invested. No machinery. All by hand. And spade and bucket. From Tuesday 8 January,  this involved earth-moving heavy clay soil from the rear of the property and barrowing it away across the street.

Jacob puts another dent in 'the bastard patch of clay'...Codename "Britney Gaga"

Jacob puts another dent in ‘the bastard patch of leaden material’…Codename “Britney Gaga”

A distance of nearly 30 yards. Down a slope and over planks. To be deposited in a neighbour’s back garden. Repeat. Ad nauseum. In 28 degree heat the term becomes a working title for riverlets of sweat, dust and dirt.  But satisfactory work none the less.

The evening shower is bliss. Clean clothes and restful sleep. Nothing for the mind to do at night except contemplate where Pookaverse is – Central America – and how long it will be until we are due to return to blighty – 7 weeks.

The first coat of a 2-coat saga that will eventually be George's bedroom...he seemed to like the colour

The first coat of a 2-coat saga that will eventually be George’s bedroom…he seemed to like the colour

And attempting not to disturb one of the many dogs that likes to throw itself down in your path for an afternoon kip. However there is Coffee twice a day. Served black with sugar. Not bitter just smooth. The best in the world? It is a strong argument as we try out our Spanish on Herraldo with banana bread or the Costa Rican specialty of sour cream on French-looking baguettes.

Pookaverse found out that the person to whom we report each week-day morning, Herraldo, will be the owner of the house once complete. His wife Sonia and son George – which in Spanish is Brobdinagian in pronunciation sounding something like “Hoor-Hey” will be the beneficiaries.  The likelihood being that this project will be completed before Pookaverse leaves the project on February 02. There are four hooms on the project including Jacob from England on a gap year and Ann from Australia taking a break from a broken heart in Sydney.

Plenty left to do next week...and the week after that...and the week after that

Plenty left to do next week…and the week after that…and the week after that

Back and forth goes Spanish, spoken. Colloquial to Costa Rica. At a clip by Herraldo. Interested in what we do back in England. “Programmer de Computador” is as close as Rohan can get. “Ahhhh”, says Herraldo, “Mucho Money” beckoning with the universal sign for money rubbing thumb and fore-fingers together.  “Si”, Rohan responds. “Mucho Money, Mucho Taxes” making the universal sign of the pickpocket “para Governmente” (for Government) y para guerra en Afghanistan” (for the war in Afghanistan). “And the Falkland Islands if that all kicks off again”

The universal sign and sound of the machine gun is delivered in pantomime. There is some confusion. And a sober acknowledgement appears to cross Herraldo’s face. It is a war far away that most people in Costa Rica are probably only dimly aware of. Clearly there is some way to go in Anglo-Costa Rican communications. We will of course let you know what happens next…

The luck of the draw

January 8, 2013

Hallo from Pookaverse. Both hooms have been ill unfortunately which means that we left you on New Years Eve and rejoin you after all the decorations and bunting should be down and back in the attic. So where were we?

We were staying with a family near the town of Santa Barbara while attending the nearby Spanish school. Staying with a Family of four: Manuel, Angela and their son Joan and daughter Angelica. The room that we were staying in was basic and sometimes a little difficult to live in. Too much furniture, nowhere to hang a wet towel etc. Otherwise. OK. Just not comfortable. Shortly after the last post, Manuel and Angelica invited Pookaverse out to spend New Years Eve. With neither of us feeling particularly well, it was a daunting 5 hours to midnight.

However, we had an interesting night.  As through incremental ‘Spanglish’ we learnt that Angela’s family comprising 7 sisters and 5 brothers all live within a few hundred feet of one another. Occupying the same barrio. A contingency implemented by Angela’s grandfather who owned this land long before the town expanded laterally.

Practically speaking this meant that we spent most of the night touring the various houses and meeting Angela’s extended family. We managed to convey in ‘Spanglish’ our gratitude for the generosity of sharing their evening and family with us. Which seemed to go down well.

As we are learning. A smile goes a long way and a pantomime gesture of what you are trying to say is very much appreciated. It shows you are trying and the ‘Ticos” seem to like it.

On Friday 04 January 2012 school was most definitively out for Summer. After 16 hours of tuition at the sprawling Spanish School, Pookaverse has left with a fragmentary understanding of verbs, numbers, asking the time and the masculine and feminine denotations. For both home stays in Costa Rica little to no English is spoken.

It has to be in Spanish. Which really doesn’t convey the awkwardness of arriving at the first families home, going into the bedroom with your bags and being presented with a week to learn a new language and ‘get by’ with the most basic of social practices. Eating together, trying to learn a little bit more about your host(s) while fumbling through the most basic Spanish words possible. Alison has proved adept.

We left Barrio Jesus (Jesus Neighbourhood) on Sunday afternoon to travel the 15km to Alajuela – one of the principal towns in the Long Valley that bisects several of the main provinces where the majority of the 4 million “Tico’s” live.  Alajuela for two reasons. Firstly it is where our project officially begins.

And secondly, it is on the way to San Ramon and the next and final homestay of the time in Costa Rica. Pookaverse was impounded along with the other volunteers in the Alajuela Backpackers Hotel. Not really the best first impression for the Swedes, Germans, English and Australian volunteers who have come here to try and do some good. Most of them are in their late teen’s or early twenties. Another classic case of neglect. No gold-leaf goose with duck hotpot.

Pookaverse declined sharing  a 10-bed dormitory with 7 others and opted to pay an additional $29US for a private room instead. It had space. That’s what could be said for that room.

Impounded is a relative word when viewing the ‘Ticos’ approach to housing and home security. For most private housing in Costa Rica features a heavily barred exterior, razor wire over most exposed walls and a heavy gate on entry. Why? Pookaverse is not sure. It is jarring. It is something that us gentle ‘Hobbits’ in the UK would expect to see in an industrial park. In Birmingham. Next to a smouldering mattress. Along with the unholy marriage of the shitty-split trainer and a fly-blown blouse.

Just as we have posted so few pictures so far (which we will remedy soon) due to the constant warnings from the Project team and ‘Ticos’ we have ‘brokenly spoken to’ about personal security. Wallets, camera’s and the seemingly vicarious sense of self-entitlement of the pickpocket to liberate you of them – because you have them. Perhaps it is this perceived ‘help-yourself’ attitude of the criminally inclined that has give rise to the need for law-abiding ‘Ticos’ to put up the gates, wire and security systems on almost an industrial scale?

Our project meeting took place yesterday morning. Led by a Project Director – herself a Tico. We were taken through the ‘small print’. About conduct. Personal safety. Obligations. All the time at the back of the mind and between Herculean coughing. Thinking about the next family that you are going to stay with. And the fact that you are going to be living in someone else’s house for the next 4 weeks.

Then on to our projects in the back of a beaten-up transit van driven by a fairly beaten-down driver. Three Swedish girls in their late teens got off at Palmares after a 40-minute drive from Alajuela. To be greeted by their individual families.  It was quite a poignant sight. To think that these young people come from all over the world to try and make a difference. Disappear amongst the general population in the wink of an eye. And in this case it was helping to look after a school containing almost 300 under-5’s while their parents work to support themselves.

Then on for another ten minutes to San Ramon. At one of the most easterly points of the long valley conurbation. A sudden stop by a bus stop. And the remaining four hooms in the van all assigned to the construction project.  Jacob (gap-year student from England in his early twenties), Ann (from Sydney again in her early twenties) and Pookaverse, And then comes the lottery. Which one of the 3 ‘Mamas’ will you be assigned to. The one with the two children. The one with a husband. All greet the onboard coordinator in a clatter of Spanish. Is something wrong? It is difficult to tell in the melee. Finally Pookaverse meets Greta – a seamstress in her late forties. With some relief.

Greta lives with one son and one daughter in their twenties in a neat and clean house just 3 minutes from what would be referred to as a Shopping Mall. And in some cases can be viewed as anything but. Despite the halo of stands on the ground floor promising an invigoration/invasion of culture. ‘Taco Bell’, ‘McDonalds’ and the Costa Rican version of ‘Starbucks’. To the colloquial supermarket and 3-screen cinema. All ensconced discretely under a bowed-tin roof.

For the rest. Pookaverse will of course let you know what happens next…

2012 in review

January 1, 2013

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thankyou for all your support.


Prospero Año Nuevo and not Prospero Ano Nuevo –

January 1, 2013

Hallo from Pookaverse. And hello from Costa Rica. More specifically Santa Barbara Canton in the Province of Heredia. Canton? Province? For this is the Switzerland of Central America. A rare thing. A stable country with no standing army, a high decree of literacy and a burgeoning eco-tourism industry that this the envy of it’s neighbors. Not many pictures taken from when we arrived in Heredia town. Tourists and their belongings are fair game in the urban sprawl. Out here – 10 minutes away in a taxi – the mood seems more relaxed. But we hooms remains vigilant.

Our flight from Santiago was an uneventful and comfortable 6:45 hours. This left the 1:20 hr hop from the nexus of Panama City International Airport to San Jose, Costa Rica. And a stay in the Hotel Hojanascas – a comfortable boutique hotel. A little off putting at first glance. As most house and businesses in Costa Rica have a direct approach to home security. Bars over all the windows and razor wire over the top of every exposed wall. In England, this would be the sign of an impoverished area. But here it is part of the scenery and sensibility. A different way of doing things. Including the shower systems. Where cold water meets plastic electric water heater above your head. Heated prior to dispersal often with mixed results. Leading to a visually disturbing conurbation of red wires and pipes.

New Years Eve...the early part at our hosts home in Santa Barbara

New Years Eve…the early part at 19:35…in our hosts home in Santa Barbara

Pookaverse is staying in the front bedroom of a house owned by Manuel, Angela – their daughter Angela and son Johan. It could be a bit tricky staying in someones house and to be honest there was a sinking feeling when we arrived and were shown to this room as very little English is spoken within the family. Typically, Angela junior speaks some English and this has been very useful as we try and respond in our fragmentary Spanish. Yesterday evening, Pookaverse was introduced to Carlos and Marilyn – friends of Manuel and Angela. We waded through different topics in ‘Spanglish and it seemed that everyone had a good time with plenty of laughter. Laughter, as if it needs restating, crosses all manner of boundaries. Linguistic or otherwise.

We are both ill on this New Year’s Eve night. Another milder and none the less irritating cold. Not quite where we wanted to be at less than 19:05 in the evening. This evening. New Years Eve. However. At least the perennial anxiety about where to go and what to do has been suspended. And in it’s place something different. Not necessarily good nor bad – just different.

Today was our first Spanish Lesson at the Amistad Institute. It started this morning at 8am – 8.30am ‘Latin Time’. Leaving the house after being prepared toast and coffee by Angela at about 07:45 and walking less than 5 minutes to the site. Hence why we are staying in this canton. The exam started at 08:30. Not much said as it is a rule that only Spanish is spoken in the School. Alison seemed to perform quite well having answered at least one question satisfactorily at least 1 hour later when the exam came to an end. Rohan managed to write his name at the top of the paper and date against it. Like that recurring dream after the stressful finals. Turning up to an exam without having revised. Both hooms are going back to school in the same class.

It is strange how things come to you in a way that you did not expect. For example. Rohan and Alison often talk about what it would have been like to have met at school. To have met earlier in life. This morning, this regret was fully nullified as we both realised that we were walking to school together.  And that Rohan was carrying Alison’s bag for her. Just an observation.

There are quite a lot of stares for the Gringos as well as the Gringas. As other students on the course have observed. Not hostile. Just curious. Europeans stand out here. Whether it be for pale skin, height or wariness in their eyes having listened to all the stories of opportunist crimes. According to the school, Europeans staying with Costa Rican families typically means that we are volunteers. It is perceived to be a worthy and honourable activity and according to our administrator, we have to be careful at all times in deed though not necessarily in word. As we are role models for parents seeking to teach values to their children. That is quite a weight responsibility isn’t it? To not muddy the waters for those that come after you?

Anyway. Be that as it may. On this New Year’s Eve night with peacocks howling outside, the music from the barrios rising contemptuously and the occasional firework being set off outside, Pookaverse wishes all of you a very Happy New Year. Just Gone. And here. Four hours to go. We’ll of course let you know what happens next….

Note: The title of this blog is fair warning to all potential Spanish Speakers. “Año” is “Year” in Spanish where as “Ano” means “Anus”. A different way to mind your P’s and Q’s

Last Moon over Santiago

December 28, 2012

Pookaverse is back in Santiago. For one night. Under the Full Moon. Not a time for undertaking as the ancients would have said.

Tomorrow we fly the 6:45-hour trip to Central America and Costa Rica.  The home of Medical Tourism, Americans seeking hip replacements. And hopefully. Just hopefully. Not the scene of coming to in a bath filled with ice with a ‘Chelsea stripe’ up your back and missing a kidney. So Brad or Marcy can sojourn and talk over other International Travelers at the hotel that you are staying in just so you know that their experience means more. To them of course. Not to you.

December Moon over San Cristobal Hill in Santiago...

December Moon over San Cristobal Hill in Santiago…

There have been tick-lists at the previous placee stayed. Not from our marvellous hosts at the Yellow House – Martin and Lysette. They have seen many people come and go and Pookaverse thinks Martin is a quick study. There have been tedious anecdotes. Just take a fucking breath? And not just from Americans either. And to be fair. We have met many interesting Americans on this trip. Who ask questions. And don’t. For example. Talk their way through (alone) their experience. On a motorbike. In Argentina. Because they have had a more intense experience than you will ever have. To them of course. Not to you.

The English are just as bad. If not worse. For talking. And not asking questions. Broadcast over communication. Some people don’t know the difference. They are lost. Pookaverse goes to a happy place in our heads. And is reminded of what Brendan said. To paraphrase. Not quote directly. “You will be gone tomorrow”. How true. In this case we were gone today. At 11am on one of the more positive transport experiences in Chile – Tur-Bus. An aeroplane  on wheels. When was the last time that you saw a coach driver in England wear a uniform. Exactly. Perfecto.

The rescue capsule for the 33 Chilean Minors as constructed by the Chilean on display in the Chilean Navy Museum

The rescue capsule for the 33 Chilean Miners as constructed by the Chilean Navy…now on display in the Chilean Navy Museum, Valparaiso, Chile

Okey-cokey. Valparaiso is an interesting city to visit. There is no doubt. There are some negatives – litter, graffiti and stray dogs in that order. And many positives. Colour, vibrancy, the sea and Boris. If Fabianna should be the Mayor of Puerto Natales for her energy, humour, warmth and sense of civic responsibility. Then Boris should be Mayor of Valparaiso. For. Colour. Vibrancy. And warmth. And humour.

Boris knocked-off from his current job at the The Yellow House at 6.30pm yesterday. And Pookaverse was delighted when he suggested that we went out for something to eat. For Pookaverse thought that we would be saying “Goodbye” to Boris for the last time . Following our walking tour on Christmas Eve. Not so. We have been lucky with the people we have met. Or guided. Feels more like the latter. Boris took us to the student area in Valparaiso where we ate a very traditional Chilean dish. Which Pookaverse cannot remember the name of. Which to English eyes is Chips, strips of steak with a friend egg on top.

With a superb Seafood Lasagne. Pisco Sour and a jug of white wine mixed with Mango Juice. And then the best part. The chance for Boris to talk. In excellent English. Like all the English-speaking Chileans we have met. Although people have struggled with our difficult and grumpy language in different ways. The ability shared by all is to play. To understand the essence of English humor and communicate that back to the native speakers. That’s quite something isn’t it? Not an easy thing to grasp. In that syntax. Those plosives. And bastard non-sequitirs.

A stain-glass window/relief in the Chilean Naval Museum...where Copernicus sees eye-to-eye with Neil Armstrong

A stain-glass window/relief in the Chilean Naval Museum…where Copernicus sees eye-to-eye with Neil Armstrong

After a boozy dinner, Pookaverse went back to Boris’s flat. To see amongst other things. His recently acquired Italian passport of which he is very proud. As he should be. Not at least for the 5-year wait. Not at least for exhaustive research into his family tree. By Church. Not online. And Chile has a lot of churches. In one seemingly prescient moment, Boris’s brother identified the church that the final piece of the puzzle lay beneath dusty volumes. Maybe something like that. It sounds evocative in the imagination. For Boris’s tenacious family – less imagination – more graft.

He is on an open invite. When Pookaverse returns to the UK and finds somewhere to live. If possible. To come and stay.

Before we left Boris gave Pookaverse a tea-light. Into which we etched all our three thumb nails. To be lit if he returns. When he is ready. He has many places to go first.

So. Tomorrow it is San Jose. Insha’Allah. And a different type of experience. Heat and humility. Can you be useful to someone else? Can you carry? Can you make something/ Instead of consume. And lose all the fat from America. And all the other places where it was too good to resist. Two bottle of over-priced Pisco at the Airport. And then. We’ll let you know what happens…

P.S. Never one to renege on a deal, Pookaverse gives you that word. In Chilean Spanish. That captures a speck of essence of Chilean humour. That word, first taught by Luis from La Casa Escondida is “La Raja” which is beat pronounced as “La RRRaaaKKKKaaa” e.g RRRack-a. Luis said it translates as ‘The Crack of the Arse” or “The Arse”. Simply put, “the Best”.

Not one to shy from exchanges, Pookaverse has given the English equivalent back. To laughter, confusion and frowns. But mainly confusion and an attentiveness to pronounce this phrase correctly. Which to native speakers makes this go-to material even funnier. With not at. English as a second language is a difficult language. Not least as it has forced all our English-speakers to change the way that their mouths navigate through verbs, consonants and vowels. Pookaverse doesn’t envy them.

However. Our Response? Of course. “The Dog’s Bollocks”. Espanol? “El Perro Teticulos” or “El Perro Cojonnes”.

With apologies to Chilean’s everywhere and to this beautiful country they call home.