Coffee Break

water damage 039A sunny mid morning finds us on the balcony with coffee, cake…and friends.
Dona Mery, Dona Estrella, Don Freddy and ourselves chewing the fat on life in the three valleys and the upcoming project to concrete part of the road from town.

As no mayor or eminent politician lives in the three valleys the road when we first arrived was simply a wide track with hardcore rolled into it from time to time when the lorry from the pig farm could no longer get traction.
It ran from the main road at the entrance to town downhill all the way to a small bridge whose supports were eaten away by the torrent below and then it rose again on the other side, where it forked.

One track led uphill and is supposed to be the emergency exit from town if the main road were to be damaged by an earthquake: this road runs over a well developed faultline and thanks to a mixture of meddling and neglect on the part of the council is next to unusable, turning into a river bed in the heavy rains.

The other track led downhill alongside our coffee plantation and now continues to the embryo massage parlour project on the other side of a large stream.
It is an embryo project because unless the owner combines it with a zipline the clients are going to have one heck of a job reaching the welcoming ladies in their individual cabinas with all mod cons – well, water anyway – as every attempt to install a bridge has resulted in said bridge being washed away by the stream.

Then the developer appeared – he preceded the massage parlour chap who bought him out when the courts chucked out the development project – and one day, the developer having influence, the bridge supports were replaced and safety rails were installed.
The safety rails lasted about three days before a lorry bringing materials to the development took them out, but the supports are still there.

Then the man who owns a big finca up near the main road decided to get together with his neighbours…a garage, a general store, a man hiring out bouncy castles and sundry others….and concrete the track from the main road down to the entrance to his property.
The developer was all for this and used his influence to get a grant to pay for the materials – hardcore, metal mesh, sand and cement – while the neighbours would supply the manpower.

Except that there were not enough neighbours to supply it, so fundraising to pay for labour was necessary.
Raffle tickets, dances, chicharone (pork crackling) feasts – all were hawked up and down the three valleys for, as the people organising it said, everyone downhill used that stretch of road so it was only right that everyone should contribute.

But not everyone downhill was content to do so.
Those who did not have a car said they didn’t mind what the road was like as they would still be walking.
Those with cars said that those who drove lorries should pay as it was lorries that wrecked the road.
Those with lorries said that the people who said that they walked actually took taxis so they should pay too.
The Indians half way down the hill said that they were indigenous people and should not have to pay.
Everyone who was not an Indian said that they jolly well should.

No one, significantly, said that the local council should pay. There are some things it is not even worth discussing.

Most people coughed up something and the stretch of road was built….a concrete section (known as the motorway) reaching about a quarter of the way to the bridge which is when the materials ran out.

Things stayed like this for a few years until a female dynamo moved into the three valleys.
She and her husband built a modern house enclosed by walls and an expensive ironwork gate; they planted palms along the verge to their house….but something was lacking in her House and Garden world.
A proper road.

She had, of course, joined the development association and she started the ball rolling on improvements.
Her first project was to collect enough money to put down hardcore on the section leading down from the end of the concrete road.
Quite a few people, ourselves included, said it was a waste of money that could be put to extending the motorway.

With a toss of her elegant head she proceeded to beguile the association into backing her project and now, a year later, the road is as bad as ever.

So now she is fundraising for a concrete stretch.

But it won’t follow on from the existing stretch.
No…that would be too simple.

The owner of the pig farm by the bridge has managed to get a grant for materials….but as he suspects the money won’t buy enough to reach from the existing stretch to the bridge, he wants to start at the bridge and work upwards.

It is this that we are discussing when Don Anselmo appears, bearing gifts.
He has brought us pickling onions from Santa Ana and tomatoes from San Ramon, stopping in on his way to check his cattle on grazing he has rented down by the stream.
Fresh coffee and cake circulate and discussion continues.

Well, says Don Freddy, people are putting more in this time than last.

They would, says Dona Estrella. There’s more people down here than up top and most of them have someone working. Apart from that there’s a fair few young lads willing to do the work.

And even Carlos is putting his hand in his pocket, says his aunt, Dona Mery. He’s giving a calf for a raffle.

What’s the matter with him…ill or something? Normally he wouldn’t even give you the time of day! Must fancy his chances with the new senora!

And Mito at the pig farm is giving a porker for chicharones which is decent of him since he was the one that got the grant.

I’m putting in too, says Don Anselmo, as my lorry uses the road a bit, but it’s not a good moment.

What’s the problem?

Well, you know I buy and sell a bit and last week I bought six calves at auction and put them down on the grazing here.
Well, one’s missing. A nice black brahma calf.
I’ve looked everywhere…upstream and down, along the roads, but no one’s seen anything.
I hadn’t even had time to brand them….’

That’s a loss, all right!

Yes…it’s always something with farming…
I must be off. I’ll nip round on Tuesday if you’re fishing out your tilapia then and make you some ceviche! Give me a ring!

He takes his leave and we hear his lorry start up ouside.

I was thinking, said Don Freddy.
From what Mito says, the grant won’t be enough to take the road right up to the existing bit.
The new senora is going to find that she has concrete uphill and downhill of her…but the same old rocks outside her house.

And I’ve been thinking too, says Dona Mery, rising to her feet.
I’m just going round to Carlos’ place to have a look at that calf he’s giving.

Bet you it’s black, says Don Freddy.


42 thoughts on “Coffee Break”

  1. I have a feeling that people are the same the world over.
    Some dress it up nicer, some get on high horses, some have right on their side and some don’t care one way or the other but stand on the sidelines and heckle.

    Ad then there are those who observe.

        1. He is – finally – due in court on contempt of court charges shortly and the lawyer acting for all those offended by him is trying to get as much into court as possible about the dubious sources of his income….

          The gentleman he attacked with a machete recently – and ended up being bested by said unarmed gentleman – has been delegated to indicate to him that a bit of pro bono on the transport would be a good idea….

  2. Ha ha, the perfect calf to give away!! That road looks a bit like the ones we lived with for a long time in Rhodesia, but then we got what they called strip roads. Two strips of tar just to put the wheels on, if any one was coming the other way, well then you had to move over to one strip while the person coming the other way had to do the same. Oddly enough it worked pretty well so long as there was not too much mud around! Keep well Diane

    1. Apparently the calf is, indeed, black… will be finding its way back to Don Anselmo shortly…

      Our drive is of the two strip variety and Leo is going berserk as drivers miss the concrete strip and crush the groundcover plants inbetween!

  3. Great stuff Helen! Having worked on roads and bridges all my life and having built everything from motorways to mountain tracks…I thoroughly enjoyed this. πŸ˜€ Here the Council is the first, and generally the only, party to be approached.

    More to the point – you have a coffee plantation! When can I expect my lifetime supply of beans for my espresso machine? πŸ˜†

    Oh how I longed to read that the owner of the massage parlour had got together with the owner of the bouncy castles…

    1. That was a horror which had not occurred to me!

      If roads and bridges are your passion…then Costa Rica is for you!
      We have the ‘platina’…a bridge carrying major traffic to the airport where the expansion plate refuses to contract:…..
      We have the collapse of drains under the capital’s ring road….
      We have bailey bridges…..
      We have suspension bridges with more gaps than slats…..
      We have bridges collapsing into crocodile infested rivers….
      We now have a road project to improve the link from capital to the major port on the Carribean side which will be operated by a Chinese company already fingered for corruption in the Philippines…at a price well above other quotes…and where any dispute will be settled under Chinese mainland law….

      You would love it!

      The council is not approached in our case because – despite doing no public works – the last mayor ran up some one million dollars of debt.

      As to the beans – when you can persuade the E.U. that bringing in more than one kilo of green coffee will not destroy the fabric of society….

      1. Excellent! As I’m retired feel free to hire me on a consultancy basis and I will oversee your road/bridge construction project. I can then pick up my beans while I’m there. πŸ˜€

        This of course has nothing at all to do with checking out this massage parlour/bouncy castle thing…oh no…no…no…

  4. I love these stories. The way you write them makes the reader feel they are there with you. Brilliant stuff Helen.

    The picture of the road looks much like one of our GOOD roads so you can imagine what the rest are like. We paid for our part of the road to be re-done nearly 3 years ago. We are now informed that the rest of the roads will be done within the next few months. However, they are not doing ours because it’s too steep! I doubt we will get a refund…the Muhtar will have spent it long ago.

    1. I’ve always found the everyday to be of interest…and your Muhtar sounds like the last mayor here – but with less lofty ambitions!
      No wonder you have trouble with the truck on roads like that!

    1. I’ve been there Steve…you definitely don’t want an Irish road gang! Their famous response to any instruction is; “No problem…Oi can do tat sor!”,,,shortly followed by what can best be described as a total engineering disaster.

      I do agree however that they will have the road “finished” and invoiced before the coffee cups are washed out. πŸ˜€

  5. Oh gosh, just giggled all the way through this…and some of the comments that have followed. (Particularly the bouncy castle/massage parlour one!) If only all of life were so complicated!

  6. Oh Helen. You are a gifted story-teller. I’m with Ayak. You make me feel as though I am there with you – and that I know these people. Have you – or can you – write a book? Order the fragments of blog into a bookish whole? I want to introduce you to a larger audience – you would enrich so many lifes! I love your stories and often read them out loud to family members – they love them too. You hold a mirror up – and with such deftness and lightness you manage to convey the essence of individuals and their culture. I’m always struck by the commonalities. You may be far away – but behaviours remain the same… Heart-warming, even when the subject matter must be frustrating for those living it! Hope you’re well…Yx

    1. I’m trying to assemble the French stuff to get it down on paper in the dry season…..
      As I said to Ayak, the everyday is always of interest – tells you much more than ‘the news’ about the society in which you live.

  7. Lovely collection of rocks; I cannot imagine driving anything on that road, including a donkey, which probably understands the road ends at a washed out bridge.
    Public works are so undermined by expectations, aren’t they. But private works are comforting; they aren’t expected to get off the ground, but to provide a years’ worth of gossip over coffee and cake.

    1. I’ve been a bit unfair with the illustration…which is the emergency exit road from town in case of earthquake!
      The road about to be concreted in a little wider….

      The grant comes from public funds for development….but nothing would happen if people were not willing to put their shoulders to the wheel and arrange to do the work.

      No good looking to the council for anything. I remember when we had to go the Constitutional Court when their roadworks gang managed to send water down into our finca rather than down alongside the road…..the council’s excuse was that they could do nothing about it as they didn’t have an engineer.
      The reply from the Court was that they could find an engineer or the mayor could go to jug for three months.

      1. You are living the most direct form of government as the donkey has no choice in putting his back into the labor. Love that the people know what has to be done. Shame you pay taxes for the privilege.

  8. Oh my. It doesn’t sound as if you will ever have a proper road. The part of this story I found most intriguing was your mention of a pork crackling feast. I’m trying to imagine what that would be like! πŸ™‚

    1. Our town is renowned for its chicharones….pork, skin on, cut into cubes and deep fried…..
      A friend invites us to his New Year party …he has a cauldron of boiling lard over a fire out in the garden and into it plunges the chicharones, plantains and potatoes….sheer bliss with an ice cold beer!
      (And, so far, no indigestion!)

      As for the road, I expect the female dynamo will get up funds to fill in the gap in a few years’ time…..but I don’t expect much action on my side of the bridge as we are so few to use that part of the road.

  9. I have to set aside specific time to read your tales. They cause a mixture of apoplexy and laughter. I mean, that black calf being offered!
    Such a simple, relaxing lifestyle you lead……

    1. Things like the black calf make me shake my head in wonderment.
      Can the man be so egoistic as to suppose his little plan would not unravel in a community where you can’t fart without everyone knowing what you ate for breakfast?

  10. The follow-up book on Costa Rica is shaping up nicely with stories like this, Helen. πŸ™‚ I just love the way it gently unfolds, meandering along like the best kind of conversation. Has the calf got back home yet?

    1. It has returned to the fold….Don Anselmo came to show me how he makes ceviche as promised and was delighted to report the return.

      What I find interesting is that had Carlos just hung on to the calf there would probably have been no come back…he is from here, Don Anselmo is from further off.
      There is a great reluctance for people to get involved in a small area with close knit families.

      But the fact that he proposed to give something that cost him nothing when others were dibbing up from their own pockets was enough to turn the balance.

      And Don Anselmo makes his ceviche with fish, onions, celery, fresh coriander, sweet peppers, lemon juice (limon mandarina – an orange fleshed citrus fruit)…salt, sugar – and Canada Dry ginger ale!
      I was never more astonished….

    1. The black calf is back to base…..and as for our version of your Wonder Woman she is currently running a course on making Christmas decorations for the ladies of the area.

      Lesson 1. Making a festive penguin from a bottle…..enough to make you take to drink….

      What next, I ask myself, secretly hoping that my cleaner will show her the Santa Claus loo seat cover passed to me (rapidly) by my mother and lovingly claimed by my cleaner to hang on her front door at Christmas.

  11. is it the way you tell them πŸ™‚
    Our wee chemin is 2 strips of extremely geriatric tarmac fighting with the greenery which has re-colonised the middle…..
    the ceviche sounds yummy but ginger ale??

      1. You need more ginger ale….
        I was astonished when he produced one of those mini bottles of ginger ale and poured it in….but it works. It gives a slight background sweetness which goes well with the fish.
        He would normally use corvina but as we were clearing the main tilapia tank before the summer when the water supply decreases he thought he’d have a go with that.
        I could not believe the amount of citrus juice he put in either…ten lemons for eight fillets of fish…but it seemed to be absorbed in about half an hour leaving just enough liquor to cover the fish and veg.

        I remember roads like your in rural England…and being driven down one of them in a Robin Reliant.
        Only once….

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