Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lost in translation

Sause on pork shop? Sound tasty? This is Erin's favorite goofed up translation, found on the menu of a traditional Tico restaurant near Poás.

It’s common to find mistakes in the English translations that occasionally appear on menus here. The one I've seen most frequently is "jam" meaning "ham," since the j sounds like an h in Spanish. Toasted jam and cheese sandwich, anyone?

Last Saturday, I bought Crismelos, a Costa Rican brand of marshmallows, to use in Rice Krispies treats for the kids. While many packaged food products from Central America do not include preparation directions, Crismelos has gone beyond the call of duty and offered a recipe for "Crismelos Chocolates" on the back of the bag—in both Spanish and English. The translation is amusing:

"Melts the chocolate bars in furnace of microwaves, immediately removes the cup from the furnace, right away introduced the Crismelos in the chocolate one by one. Placed in pyrex and put the refrigerator."

Furnace of microwaves? I'm not sure my average microwave is up to the task!

Moving on, here's another favorite Spanish-to-English translation. Found on a map of Sarchí, a town recognized for its beautiful wood-working and traditional oxcarts, this gem appears next to its Spanish counterpart in bold, capital letters:

This is a Costarican art monument, artesanal jewel and artistical. It is a national symbol and it was declared as intangible patrimony of the humankind by UNESCO on November 2005. The craddle of the Costarican handcraft Sarchi realized this emblematical oxcart. It was created at the historical Eloy Alfaro and Sons Workshop, built and painted in 3 months whit the supporting of 3 painters and 3 crafters. The oxcart is 20 meters lenght and 3800 inches of bitter cedar and laurel.

The snippet about the “intangible patrimony of the humankind” is priceless. While part of me desperately wants to edit the English on Costa Rica’s menus, maps, and brochures, the rest of me appreciates the levity of such delightfully funny renderings.

¡Puras palabras!

Monday, February 25, 2008

5K Day

The 25th anniversary CDS fun run was this weekend at the girls’ school, and Dan ran the hills of Escazú on a sunny yet cool morning. Our friend Gabriel also ran the race, and I chatted with his wife Isa and their little ones while the guys ran. Erin and Lauren had fun wandering the school grounds with amigas and cheering for their dad.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The blue box blues

When mama wants to please me
she's only got to cheese me!
I got the blues ...

A minor crisis has struck our household in the form of what appears to be a country-wide shortage of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Yes, the marginally nutritional, unnaturally orange, yet unfailingly comforting and homey pasta dinner in the blue box. Can't find it anywhere—not even at the big warehouse club down the highway. I open the kitchen cupboard and see that empty spot where the mac and cheese normally resides, and feel a pang of despair. In a country with extremely little in the way of frozen or pre-prepared food, we've come to rely on Kraft mac and cheese for an easy Sunday supper or a snack to fill hungry bellies.

Here's the thing: One can never count on anything imported from the US to be in stock. A month ago I needed a basic antibiotic and was told at the pharmacy that it was unavailable and I wouldn’t find it in any pharmacy in Costa Rica. I asked for a substitute and got one, no problem. (A side note: you don’t need a prescription for many drugs in CR, including antibiotics.)

Another example … When we first moved here, I bought a couple of cans of Campbell's tomato soup, because it's my favorite and Lauren loves it, too. It costs twice as much as at home, but it was a splurge we were willing to make.

Next trip back to the store ... no Campbell's tomato. Cream of mushroom, chicken noodle, a stray can of Manhattan clam chowder, sure. But no tomato.

We tried other kinds of tomato soup, but nothing fit the bill. I was disappointed until—several months later—there they were! Four cans of tomato soup wrapped in familiar red and white labels. Not to be fooled again, I bought all four cans. This last week there was an impressive stock of the stuff. Why? I have no idea. Sometimes stores carry a lot of a certain import and then it will disappear off the shelves for weeks to months at a time.

Sadly, the mac and cheese has vanished. We buy it in bulk at Pricesmart, and all four of us stood dumbfounded and stared at the shelves last Saturday when we realized there was no mac and cheese. What's the deal? Are the Americans hording all the mac and cheese, creating increased demand for the stuff and causing this shortage here in Central America? (And if so—hey, knock it off!)

We'll play the waiting game, and at some point I expect we'll stock our makeshift food storage room with a case or so of Kraft Mac and Cheese. Until then ... we've got the blue box blues.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The big bucket in the sky

Not long ago, Lauren went to a friend's house after school to play. Shortly before dinner, I drove (with Erin in tow) to the friend's house (through harrowing rush hour traffic, I might add!) to retrieve the little one. I had met the father of Lauren's friend, who works for the US embassy, but never the mom, so we sat down for a few minutes and enjoyed chatting while the kids finished making their sock puppets.

As we were talking, I learned that the father, John, is from Lexington, Kentucky. About 15 minutes later, I finally mustered up the nerve to ask about the large portrait hanging on the far side of the family room and dining room. "Uh, is that really a painting of Colonel Sanders?"

Yep, it is. Colonel Sanders was John's great-great grandfather. Later, within five minutes of leaving our friends' place, we drove past a KFC. Erin wondered, "Do you think they get a discount?"

I should have asked if he has the secret family recipe with eleven herbs and spices!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Goodlight is great news

Books in English are a hot commodity. We brought most of our books with us and have been rereading page after page, because buying new books in English is not in the budget: a $7 paperback in the US goes for $14 here. I crave new reading material and sorely miss trips to the library. When we return to the US, I'll be spending hours poring over all the lit I've missed during our time in CR.

Frustrated with reading the same old stuff, I began the search to borrow books from other Americans. And then, through an Internet group of expats living in CR, I learned about Goodlight Books. This great little shop is unpretentiously sandwiched between typical Tico locales, but it's a true gem for bibliophiles: it's a bookstore selling used books in English at reasonable prices.

Once I'd heard about Goodlight, I’d planned that we'd stop there on the way home from our trip to Poás. The shop is in Alajuela, about a 20-minute drive from our home in Santa Ana.

We found the store with little trouble (not always an easy feat in no-street-signs Costa Rica) and happily plunked down about $50 for at least 30 books (I lost count somewhere along the way). The shop owner was very personable, the selection of material beyond adequate, and I even got to pet the resident cat, Chola, who was hanging out on the top of the computer desk. Wooohoooo! We've got plenty to keep us reading, now!

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. ~Chinese Proverb

Friday, February 01, 2008

Day trip to Poás Volcano

On a sunny Saturday, we set out to visit Poás Volcano—the silhouette of which we can see from our house (though it looks just like the other mountains around us). Our drive took us through the nearby town of Alajuela and then skirted a few smaller towns, such as San Pedro, Fraijanes, and Poasito. (Click here for photos of our day.)

On our way we were treated to green, lush vegetation, including trees bursting with vibrant orange and deep purple flowers. We saw a waterfall rushing down a mountainside, a large crop of sugar cane, coffee plantations, and field after field of what we’ve been told are ferns, strawberries, and even coffee growing under massive, ventilated tarps.

We stopped for a few photos as we ascended; we could see the Central Valley and all the tarps from higher up the mountain. Our ears were popping and we had to put the windows up on the Rav4, because the temps dropped quite a bit. (You can get cold in sunny Costa Rica!)

After about a 90-minute drive we reached Poás National Park. All visitors are asked to park their cars facing out, in case there is need to evacuate. Thankfully the volcano didn’t blow its top while we were there. (I believe the park was last closed to visitors in the 90s when Poás was spitting out too much gas.)

We hiked a bit until we reached the highlight of the park—the active crater. At a 1.5-kilometer diameter, this active crater is reportedly the widest of any volcano in the world. The crater has a steaming, blue-green lake. (The lake’s color changes frequently; when we left CR on our trip to the US, the pilot flew over Poás and the color of the lake was much more intense than it appeared on this visit.) Though we just saw a few bubbling emissions of sulfuric gas—which we could smell, as well—the volcano is known to have huge, geyser-like eruptions.

As is typical for Poás, there were clouds that rolled in and over the crater. Thankfully they were thin and dissipated quickly so we had great views of the entire crater and surrounding area. We were grateful for the sun’s warmth, because in addition to the cooler mountain temps it was extremely windy at the overlook for the active crater. At one point, Lauren sought refuge under an observation stand just to get a break from the gale. We knew enough to wear pants and bring jackets, but saw some people in shorts, T-shirts, and flip flops. I wondered if they realize the gift shop sells jackets.

We backtracked just a few yards down the trail from the active crater to a 1.5-kilometer trail leading to Botos Lagoon. This hike was uphill most of the way (in high elevations—whew!) but led us through a very cool section of stunted forest. The park actually has great biodiversity and boasts four distinct habitats: areas with little vegetation (such as around the crater), the dwarf forest (made of crazy looking, twisted trees with gnarly roots), a cloud forest (very wet and dark with tall trees—this around the lagoon), and an area of arrayans (flowering, evergreen shrubs).

The dwarf forest and cloud forest were amazing; and yes, we did walk through several areas with plenty of canopy where wispy clouds hung around. Thankfully we all worse sturdy shoes, as the trail was slippery in places due to the humidity.

After about 30 minutes we reached the sparkling Botos Lagoon, a dormant volcanic crater filled with rainwater (yet still acidic). It wasn’t nearly as windy at this overlook, thankfully. Additionally, the lagoon overlook is the park’s highest elevation. Dan wore a GPS that shows feet above sea level, and as we hiked, Erin kept asking how high we were. The highest we remember seeing was 8861 feet, and I think the highest point in the park is 8870 feet.

Once we reached the end of the trail we’d hiked well over two muscle-testing miles of mountain. We stopped in the gift shop for a look around and shared a snack and some hot chocolate in the cafeteria.

Not long after that we began our descent and stopped near Poasito for some lunch. The girls had some sweet aguas naturales—water and ice blended with fresh fruit (Erin had strawberry, Lauren had mango). Lauren had a gallo de queso (fried Tico-type cheese on a fresh, corn tortilla) and the rest of us had typical Costa Rican breakfast (yes at about 2:30 in the afternoon) of scrambled eggs and gallo pinto. We were so hungry, it hit the spot. It was a nice lunch to cap off a fun day trip.

¡Pura Poás!