Saturday, September 27, 2008

We cast our ballots

On the heels of the presidential debate in Mississippi, I imagine many Americans are eager to vote and anticipating trips to the polls in November. Not us! Dan and I—along with a mess of other US citizens—voted for the US president today in downtown San José. What a fascinating and unusual experience!

We left home this morning to navigate our way through the crazy SJ traffic and a city without street signs. Our friends the Reidys were close behind us, and we had no problem getting to the parking lot just down from the hotel. (Many thanks to our friend Dustin, who gave us some excellent directions to the Holiday Inn where we voted!)

A group of Americans called Democrats Abroad generously hosted the vote, open to members of all parties.

When we got to the hotel's third floor, where the voting was held, I realized how unusual it was to be in such a large group of Americans here in Costa Rica—most of us clutching passports, US driver licenses, and social security cards. We waited in a short line with our friends until we were able to vote.

There were no polling booths, levers to pull, or hanging chads today. Instead we voted by federal write-in absentee ballot. Inside a conference room were several large, round tables, each seating about eight voters and a couple of facilitators. People entered in shifts as the facilitators helped us vote.

Dan and I began by addressing federally-issued envelopes to the Butler Country Board of Elections in Hamilton, Ohio. Then we had to enter a bunch of personal info and make a voter's declaration/affirmation, stating we are US citizens who may legally vote in the general election.

Finally, we voted, actually writing in the names of our candidates. Someone asked Dan how to spell Palin, while I heard an elderly woman ask for a reminder of Biden's last name. There wasn't really any secrecy to it at all—I could easily look next to me on both sides and see who my neighbors were voting for, but that was OK. It was just such a different experience and I felt very excited about doing something so thoroughly American as voting for our president.

Once everything was filled out I folded my ballot, placed it in a special "security envelope," and sealed it. The sealed security envelope and the voter's declaration/affirmation were then put into another envelope (the one addressed to Hamilton, Ohio) and sealed.

Lastly, Dan and I walked over by the windows to place our envelopes into a box and we were done. Off to the US go our ballots!

The ride home was slow but interesting as Dan drove and I navigated (sort of!) our way down narrow streets cramped with taxis, buses, and crowds of Saturday morning shoppers. I thought I'd include this picture Erin took to show you how close behind us the buses like to be (nearly touching our car, here). Finally we got through the congestion and were on our way to Multiplaza Escazú for some lunch, pleased that we voted and that the girls, once again, were able to see democracy in action and how much we value our right as Americans to vote.

(Of course we didn't let Lauren drive—she is 10 years away from driving legally in Costa Rica, actually, with the driving age being 18—but she thought she was funny getting behind the wheel of our car in the parking lot. Our friend Brendan commented that at age eight, Lauren would probably be a better driver than a lot of people legally driving here in this country. If only she could reach the pedals and see out the windshield at the same time!)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Today bugged me

This morning I squashed a spider in the family room.

Around lunchtime I had to kill a scorpion in my screened-in patio. I hate scorpions, and this is the sixth one we've had in the house.

At dinner a moth started flying around over the table. I went to shut the door that was propped open for air (the kitchen gets steamy on pizza Tuesday when the oven is at 450 degrees) and found ...

a frog sitting in my shoe (being used to prop the door open). It leapt out and onto the vacuum cleaner. You who know the story of me getting the frog out of the Christmas tree when we lived in Florida will be happy to know that Dan took care of the frog this time (I insisted!).

Just now, when I was turning off the lights to go to bed, there was a beetle by the refrigerator.

I'm hoping I've seen the last of little creatures in my house for a while. Some days are just buggier than others around here!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Día de la independencia

Today Costa Rica celebrates its independence, and on Friday, Erin and Lauren had an opportunity to wear their traditional Costa Rican clothes to school—full, swirling skirts and beautiful, lightweight blouses. As they did last year, the kids paraded around the school grounds carrying their paper lanterns, sang the national anthem, and participated in a cultural experience important to this country in which we live.

If you're interested in the history of this day and the celebrations it entails, you can read more about Costa Rica's Independence Day in my blog entry from last year: It's Independence Day

Friday, September 12, 2008

Flutter by, butterfly

At The Butterfly Farm in La Guacima, hundreds of butterflies live in a lush, enclosed tropical garden. This working farm raises nearly 60 species of gorgeous butterflies and is the leading export of live butterfly pupae in the world. Pretty amazing!

The third graders in Lauren's class have been studying the life cycles of living creatures and took a field trip to La Finca de Mariposas to see all stages of a butterfly's life in a natural setting. Of course I volunteered to chaperone again; class field trips here are fantastic.

Learning about the butterflies on this comprehensive tour was really interesting, but the best part of the trip was watching the flying flowers (especially the blue morphos—my favorites!) gracefully dance around us and sometimes even land on us when we were very still.

Words can't describe the beauty of the setting and the butterflies, so I got snap-happy and took a lot of photos. It was hard to choose which to share.

Below, a huge and gorgeous blue morpho landed on my friend Isa's backpack. I have seen many types of butterflies here in Costa Rica, but the morpho is absolutely stunning. A nondescript brown when its wings are folded, it is breathtaking when it opens its wings and takes off in flight.

This butterfly isn't yellow, but almost a neon green. I think it's a Swallowtail.

I love this last photo (above) not only because the tropical foliage is so amazing, but because if you look closely you can see a flash of blue in the middle of the picture—the blue morpho, of course. It's hard to tell, but there were actually butterflies all around in this setting. ¡Pura mariposas!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mayhem and the museum

My friend Angie and I headed into San Jose on Monday to one of the city's many museums. The rain started pouring just as we were leaving Escazú, and before we'd gone far we came to a dead stop, right there on the highway. Granted the highway here, known as the pista, can get really congested, but this was in the middle of the afternoon on a Monday, so we knew something was wrong. Sure enough, guys on motos (motorbikes are very common here, always weaving in and out of traffic) headed toward us, motioning that everyone had to turn around—as in, we were all going to face oncoming traffic and go the wrong way on the pista. We knew if these guys on motos couldn't get through, nobody was getting through.

Of course there wasn't a traffic cop in sight, so in a completely haphazard way, all the drivers just started bullying their way around the two lanes to head toward the nearest exit.

Angie deftly manuevered her car around. I was impressed with her staying cool under pressure, and soon we joined three other "lanes" of traffic trying to get onto a one-way exit that would take us into San Jose. If the weather had been clearer I would have had some excellent photos, but this was the best I could do in the rain.

We later learned that severe wind gusts knocked a bunch of trees across the road, causing the chaos. Turning around, driving the wrong way on one of the busiest, biggest highways in the country ... it was weird, but honestly, Angie and I both agreed that sometimes this stuff doesn't faze us so much anymore. The unusual is usual, the surreal is real, and traveling in this country is always an adventure!

Not to be deterred, we made it to the museum (some might consider this a feat in itself considering the lack of road maps and street signs) without further incident. We visited the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art and Design) to see the World Press Photo exhibit. The museum is housed along with a theater in the Centro Nacional de la Cultura (CENAC—National Center of Culture) building which, interestingly enough, used to be the national liquor factory.

I wish I had better pictures to show you of San Jose, but I only took a few since we just wanted to get out of the rain. The museum is across from the beautiful Parque España (Park of Spain). This spot of land is densely packed with oodles of amazing trees transplanted from all across Costa Rica. (The massive one in the photo is right across from the entrance to CENAC.) We also saw a bust of Queen Isabella of Castile and an unusual tiled guardhouse on the corner.

We entered the museum through the back entrance which doesn't look quite as grand as the front (but was closer to our parking spot).

Across the street from the park is the Casa Amarilla (Yellow House), which used to be in Cartago (the previous capital of Costa Rica) until it was destroyed in an earthquake. It was then rebuilt in SJ in 1912 and is home of Costa Rica's foreign ministry. It's a national monument, and we wanted to go inside to see the interior but it was closed. You can see on the edge of the photo, left-hand side, a huge Ceiba tree which was planted in 1963 by John F. Kennedy and the presidents of all the Central American countries.

Lastly, we couldn't help but notice banners and flags flying from buildings all across the city. September 15 is Independence Day here in Costa Rica, and the Ticos love to show their national pride.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Good day, sunshine

Things in the central valley are very wet, humid, and cloudy now; rainy season is in full swing. After days and days of overcast skies and buckets of rain, we woke Sunday to an absolutely gorgeous morning. Dan and I went for a walk around the neighborhood, and the vibrant colors and warm sun were energizing. I even took a few pictures because everything looked so beautiful. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Una orquídea

The orchid is the national flower of Costa Rica. Dan bought a beautiful purple orchid for me to celebrate our anniversary.