Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving greetings, personal news and more...

Happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone! I got up early and fixed cornbread and sausage stuffing (I’d fixed the cornbread last night along with some banana pudding). The turkey is fresh and raised locally. I packed the bird with cornbread and sausage stuffing and it's now roasting. I had banana pudding for breakfast which would have been a Thanksgiving favorite had the Pilgrims landed in Honduras. Even if we can’t rewrite history, we can at least experience it! I hope all of you who read this have a wonderful thanksgiving and if the dinner comes out to be a disaster, well, that’ll be material for another blog post or two!

Personal News: I am feeling like such a bad blogger as I have been so incredibility busy lately. It’s mostly good! My big project which has taken most of my energy for the past five years is finally winding down. Someone recently asked me what’s next and I think I found it. I have been offered an incredible gift for the upcoming year—a sabbatical—and I am now working on the details on a round-the-world trip that will involve no (or as few as possible) airplanes. If any of my readers have taken freighters, I’d love to hear from you. When the details are worked out, I’ll share them with you. This may cut down on my blogging in the short-term, but should be a boom to my blogging for the long-term.

National, Local and More Personal News: What should have been yesterday’s headline in newspapers: “Tom is now really delayed.” Closer to home, we have a former county commissioner and former county Republican party chief who is charged with animal cruelty. When a police officer asked him what he was doing with a dead wet cat that didn’t belong to him, he said he was trying to teach it to swim. It’s a sad thing, the only positive outcome being the new jokes around the coffee shop. And, when our boys in blue aren’t rustling up cat-nappers, they’re pulling over you-know-who. That’s right, yesterday, for the first time in 30 years, I saw blue lights on my tail. Humbled, I pulled over and the officer came up and asked for my license and registration. As I was looking through the glove compartment for my truck’s papers, I asked what I’d done. The officer said my driving was fine but I was missing a sticker on my license. Sure enough, I pulled out my registration and there was the sticker stapled to it. The officer laughed and allowed me to put it on. He ran my license and then gave it back to me saying that I had an “exemplary driving record.” My only problem is that my truck registration comes up in January and the stickers say that you have to put it on when it is warm and dry (which is never is in Michigan in January). So, waiting for a nice day, I forgot all about the sticker. At least the officer was nice about it and I didn’t get a ticket or anything.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I wanna see the volcano: Costa Rica, Part 2

Those of you who read my last post (made this morning) was kind of like me viewing an active volcano… Sorry, I was working on this and obviously posted nothing, but it posted! This is my second post from my trip to Costa Rica. The craziness of my life has calmed down so maybe I can get back to posting on a more regular basis. The photo of me was taken at the lodge I refer to in this post.

We meet the group working in La Carpio at San Ramon, a town on the old Central American highway known for cigars rolled from the tobacco raised in the surrounding hills. It was only 5:30 PM, but the sun had set and darkness was fast descending as we set out in a caravan (a small bus and a van) toward La Fortuna. The narrow road snaked and twisted through the mountains, climbing steeply only to descend just as steeply only to end at a tight bridge. I wished it had been light as I would have enjoyed the scenery. The ride was uneventful with one exception. At the bottom of a hill, on a hairpin turn, a semi pulling a 53 foot shipping container cut the turn too sharp. Our driver slammed on the brakes, stopping the snub nose bus just inches from the trailer. It was shocking from my viewpoint, just behind the driver. I thought for sure we’d hit the trailer and we were close enough that I could have stuck my hand out of the driver’s window and touched the trailer. Our driver slowly back up, watching for the van with the rest of our group that was behind us. The truck was able to navigate through the rest of the turn and we gave a round of applause to our driver.

A few minutes later, we stopped at a roadside dinner. There were only a few customers who were overwhelmed by a group of 26 hungry gringos. There seemed to be just one guy working, but I think he called in his wife to help out and soon we were all fed. I ate a fried rice and shrimp dish which was delicious. A little later, we were back on the road and our driver informed us that if it wasn’t for the clouds, we could see Arenal, an active volcano west of La Fortuna that rises above the plain, to 1600 meters. One of my bucket list items has been to see an active volcano and I was excited at the possibility. For most of the history of Costa Rica, Arenal was inactive and considered to be a safe mountain. Then, in 1968, following an earthquake, the volcano woke up and has been providing constant fireworks ever since. With a flashlight, I serenaded my fellow passengers with stories from the guide book, embellished slightly and with references to Jimmy Buffet, of the volcano erupting and swallowing to villages. (I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blows…) Some of them were not amused and may not have slept well that night.

Our hotel was Jardines Arenal Lodge, a nice place that had been closed for the end of the rainy season. The proprietor, Hernan Blanco, was a friend of someone who was a friend of the guy who ran the place in Esparza, and had agreed to open up for us as we nearly filled his lodge. He said he’d closed the lodge because tourism has been way down (it’s always down during the rainy season but since 2008, he can’t afford the staff to keep it open. For $25 a person, we got a nice bed and room and breakfast and excellent hospitality. Most of the rooms of the lodge faced the volcano (or so we were told) and I was up several times in the night to see if I could see the fiery mountain, but it stayed cloudy. Once, at about 3 AM, I went outside and could see a few stars but saw nothing in the direction of the volcano. We weren't even treated to an earthquake or rumble coming down through the fog.

Daylight comes early in Costa Rica. At 5 AM, it was just beginning to lighten up, when a group of us met to take a morning hike. Hernan had recommended an old dirt path that had been the road into La Fortuna. It was warm and humid and we walked for a number of miles, stopping to admire the cows (this is cattle country) as well as the trees and the flowers and the fruit. Having just finished working with my daughter’s leaf project before traveling, I found myself looking at leaves on trees that were so big that they couldn’t have fit into a suitcase without being folded. There was one oak looking leaf that I figured I’d need a sheet of plywood, cut in half, just to press it. The country has such a diversity of plant life that I wondered if we hadn’t somehow found a backdoor into Eden. Rain came and went, but it was too warm to bother us; I just had to keep my camera dry.

We got back in time for breakfast at 8 AM, and to pack up. At 9:30 AM, a group of us headed out to rain forest “canopy tour” at Ecoglide. We were given harnessed and a safety lesson and then hauled us on an over-sized truck bed up the side of the volcano, where we spent the next hour or so zipping down wires through and above the trees. There was even a Tarzan swing that wasn’t nearly as scary as I’d been led to believe. Our guides were good natured, joking that this was their first day on the job. We had a blast. However, I do wish our guides had been able to tell us a bit about the natural sights we were experiencing.

Afterwards, we met up with the rest of our group at Bali Hot Springs. The water for these pools is heated deep within the volcano. In the wet midst, it felt good to soak in the warm water and to stand under water falls letting the warm water fun down my back. The guide book said that on clear nights, one can soak while watching the volcano spit cinders up into the air and spew lava down its side. I’d loved to seen it; instead we saw clouds.

That night, we made it back to Esparza, having never seen the volcano. I assume it was there, up in the midst and that all of this wasn’t some big joke on me.

Below is a photo of the volcano in the clouds....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Remembering the Edmund Fritzgerald

Thirty-five years ago today, the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in Lake Superior… The photo is of a puzzle of the ship that was put together at Sage’s house a few winters ago. Thanks to Gordon Lightfoot, we’ll always remember the ship and the crew who went down with it. Every November in the Great Lakes region, we hear the song on the radio.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turns the minutes into hours?
The Big Fritz was a large ship for its time. Today, they have iron haulers on the Great Lakes that are over a 1000 feet long and 105 feet wide (the Fitzgerald was 700 or so feet long). It's amazing to be at the Sault locks, watching a 1000 foot long vessel slide into a lock that is 110 feet wide (that's 2 1/2 feet margin on each side)!

I’ve been overwhelmed since arriving back in the early morning hours of last Thursday. I have a lot of ideas for writing, a stack of read books to review before I forget what they were all about, and photos galore to share… Maybe next week! Have a good rest of the week.

Friday, November 05, 2010

La Carpio

Garbage trucks rumble through the main street of La Carpio, heading for the dump south of town. As they negotiate the hills, their engine brakes rumble. “It’s hard for me to get a blood pressure on the first try,” admits a young nurse from Seattle. She came to this community right out of college and is living on a stipend for six months as she works in a clinic. “After six months, I’ll have to go back to the states,” she states sadly, acknowledging that her students loans will then kick in and she’ll need a real job. She’s been here two months, helping run in clinic in this town built on a landfill. Most of her patients are Nicaraguan refugees who came here during their country’s civil war. As aliens (many of them illegal), they have limited access to health care. Costa Rica has a universal health care program, but one has to be a citizen. That’s where this clinic comes in. The office is filled with files on patients (she explains that they are they’re trying to convert to electronic records to reduce the space that’s needed for paper files).
La Carpio is a dangerous place. On the corner are two police officers, a man and a woman, both heavily armed and wearing body armor. They smile when we cross the street to where a temporary clinic has been established. A part of the group with which I’m traveling, those with medical skills (there are four doctors and a number of nurses), have set up camp and are doing what they can to reduce suffering and to take the load off the clinic across the street. The hot tin building is filled with children and mothers. Sheets have been hung as dividers between exam rooms. A few old men and woman (who are probably younger than me) are also waiting to be seen. Eye glasses are being dispensed, along with antibiotics and vitamins and medicine to fight worms and other ailments. The clinic is surprising clean, and so are those who’ve come for help, but La Carpio is filthy. This is the end of the rainy season and there’s mud everywhere, along with the trash that blows out of the constant caravans of trash trucks. I’m told it gets worse as one moves further down the hill, toward the river.
I don’t stay long. I’m just here to see what my friends have been up to for the past week. But the images of La Carpio are etched in my mind.

I spent last week in Costa Rica with a mission team. I got to work like a campesino, along side some Costa Ricans on a construction project. We worked five days helping a church to be handicap accessible. I’ve never busted so much concrete in my life! But I had fun and also had several free days got to tour around the country. We even went to see active volcanoes, but because of the cloud cover, didn’t get to see them… More stories and photos forthcoming. Costa Rica is a beautiful country.