Things That Go Bump – Or Splash – In The Night

whistling ducks2

There have been a couple of nocturnal surprises this week.

The whistling duck colony which has adopted our metal roof as a night time roost is not one of them…

 

They arrived some while ago, attracted by the dubious delights of the lagoon at the pig farm across the river and took up residence on the roof rather like the Hobbits entering the house of Beorn

First one pair, then another, until the whole colony was installed.

The main problem was that they seemed to be late night revelers,  returning from their lucubrations in the early hours and landing on the roof with a boom that reverberated through the house, followed by dancing Strip the Willow in hobnail boots prior to finally settling down.

Oddly enough, none of this activity interests the dogs. Guaranteed to give tongue at porcupines, nocturnal prowlers and cars which stop on the top road they completely ignore the bangs and crashes overhead. Perhaps, typical dog, they think that as they cannot catch them it is best to ignore their existence…

We have grown accustomed to it now, so that their activities no longer count as a surprise. Shock and awe, perhaps, but surprise…no.

Leo wakes in the early hours. Unable to sleep he gets dressed and we sally forth for a cup of tea…which is where we came across this week’s first surprise.

Danilo is a dog magnet….there must be at least twelve up in his family compound…..and two of them like to come to work with him. The old dog, Calamardo, has decided that since Danilo comes every day except Sunday he will rest his paws by living with the sheep full time, emerging for his morning biscuits and his evening meal.

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Ancient he might be, semi blind and half deaf, but he has a wonderful sense of smell – and of direction. The young man who tried to extract money from us for his cow saw fit to enter the byre one evening last week and came out faster than he went in, emerging with a severe bite on his hand. For some reason he did not come up to the house to complain…

The other come-to-work dog is Donna.

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She had been abandoned and was taken on by Danilo…knowing Donna I doubt he had much choice as she knows a mug when she sees one and has no intention of being abandoned again.

Danilo’s wife does not like dogs in the house so when Danilo goes off in the evenings Donna comes here to wait for him. If it is late, she settles herself on the porch – commandeering a cardboard box as sleeping quarters. If early enough for the front door to be open she toddles into the kitchen, eats any available leftovers and settles herself down for the night. We have learned from experience to leave a box out for her…after having potatoes scattered all over the floor when she took a fancy to the box in which we were keeping them.

This week we emerged from the bedroom in the early hours, switched on the light, patted the dogs and headed for the stove to make the tea….to be greeted  by the sight of a beaming Donna lying on her version of a water bed.

Our milk comes in plastic sachets of 900 centlitres – this is the land of  the plastic bag – which we buy in boxes of twelve. Her ladyship, obviously preferring the milk box to the one left out for her, had discovered something even better…the sachets themselves, upon which she was reclining blissfully.

Luckily she had broken none of them so it was just a job of picking them up and putting them out of her reach. At that hour of the morning I had no enthusiasm for clearing up a canine Cleopatra’s bath.

Had  I but known it that would have been child’s play compared with what awaited me later in the week.

Three thirty a. m. Leo is awake and calls me to help him get dressed.

I sit up, put my feet to the ground expecting to meet my slippers but instead find  water. A squawk from the other side of the bed indicates that Leo has had the same experience.

Bedside light on reveals the bedroom awash.

Shuffling through it to avoid making waves I lift boxes…sodden at the base…into the bath for future investigation….and no, the water is not coming from the bathroom.

Open door to the house to find the dogs marooned on the sofa and the floor likewise awash….luckily no more boxes to be affected.

Water, water everywhere….but, as proved when trying to fill the kettle, not a drop to drink. The tank has run dry.

A moment’s thought allows me to thank my lucky stars that I had not topped up the five hundred litre tank the night before, then sploshing about to turn off all the stopcocks except that to the kitchen taps and opening the front door which has the effect of pulling some of the water out into the porch and onto the garden.

Off to the pump control to pull some water into the tank…sufficient for immediate needs – tea. The loos had one flush left in each, so no need to worry about that for a while.

Back to make tea, and organise Leo as far as the kitchen where he could drink it in peace while waiting for his blood pressure to settle.

Mobilise mopping up gear…but where to start? It is a tribute to Danilo’s building skills that the floor is level, so the water had not collected into a sump anywhere, though a sump would have been easier to deal with.

Sweep water through front door…..the slight slope on the porch sending it out into the garden.

Lay the dog towels down and make the rounds squeezing them into buckets. Empty buckets.

Sweep water out through front door.

Squeeze out towels into buckets. Empty buckets.

Drink tea and curse.

Dogs descend to offer sympathy and wet paws.

Start the sweep and squeeze routine again….drink tea and curse…continue ad infinitum ad nauseam.

The sun rises behind San Antonio Arriba and the mopping and slopping continues until areas round likely leak points are cleared of standing water and can be dried off so that Leo can see if he can find the origin of the Noah’s Fludde that has engulfed us.

First time lucky….the guest loo is the guilty party, though neither of us can see exactly how it has wreaked its havoc, so it will wait until Danilo’s arrival – as long as we remember to turn off the stop cock…which we go back to do…

The floors are remarkably clean…a few long lost items have floated out from under Leo’s desk…all is now well with the world.

The world might be fine, but I am out on my feet. Ideally I would return to bed and pull the bedclothes over my head but no such luck…there is just time to cook breakfast before the arrival of Danilo and the beginning of the routines of the day.

It is, as always, a great life if you don’t weaken!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Bots and Men and the Answer to Everything

bot fly

A feature of television in my youth was the scheduling of what were known as ‘nature’ programmes at an hour when a respectable Scots family would be attacking a high tea.
You would be contemplating a slice of Lorne sausage when the screen would display an antelope meeting an unfortunate end….hyenas going about their unpleasant business would accompany a helping of salmon….even reaching for a potato scone had its risks…

I am sure that warble flies were featured too – how could the BBC resist? – but I had never in all my puff thought that I would come across the human version, the bot fly.

This delightful character captures a mosquito, lays its eggs on it and messes off. The mozzy then bites a human – or other species – and the bot fly eggs enter the wound thus caused.

The eggs then develop under the skin of the host for eight weeks before emerging to pupate.
Sounds innocent doesn’t it and, what is more, the thing exudes a sort of antibiotic which prevents the wound from becoming infected as an infected wound will kill the larva.

I have had one of these delightful visitors myself…and can assure you that it is far from innocent. The damned thing itches like hell and wriggles about like a underclad cabaret dancer seeking a hefty tip.

The local advice is to place a chunk of meat over the wound, stick it on with plaster and wait for the brute to emerge into the meat, but having apocalyptic visions of said meat rotting in situ given tropical conditions, I went to the local clinic instead.

Ah, you need Nurse Evelyn!

Nurse Evelyn seems to be the specialist in everything…
Electrocardiograms? Nurse Evelyn.
Gangrene? Nurse Evelyn.

Bot fly? Nurse Evelyn.

I was summoned to her office and indicated the affected area which was seized in a grip which would rouse envy in a banker foreclosing on a widow and gave up its larva – an unattractive, bloated sort of thing which met its end in the waters of the loo next door.

If You Knows of a Better ‘Ole….

better 'ole
When we added an extension to this little house it took the form of a wide wooden balcony running the length of the house and more…the further part being divided off to make a large bedroom with more windows than walls: the palms and the guapinol tree with the red orchids in front; the bamboos and wild poinsettias at the side; the bougainvillea and more poinsettias behind, all reflected in the mirrors.
It’s as close as we can get to having the outdoors inside, and to keep the more disobliging insects at bay a mesh screen runs round the room, covering the gap between the top of the wall and the roof supports….breezes can blow through, but the stingers stay outside.
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This is all very well, but just lately the breezes have become gusts…and, for Costa Rica, chilly gusts. We are used to the Trade Winds blasting away in December, but they have obviously decided to visit us for rather longer this year and are still happily ripping off roofs in exposed areas, and, more particularly, keeping our bedroom well aired.

Fine for us…but not for the poodle.
The poodle was born and brought up in Costa Rica…in a ‘normal’ house where the walls meet the roof…where breezes do not play upon its sacred person while it is snoozing on the bed.
The poodle is displeased.

Not so displeased that it does not follow my husband to bed at night…it likes to keep a close eye on him and cannot wait for me to clean my teeth and close up the household for the night – a process which involves digging out the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi from his lair behind the sofa and evicting him before something alerts him in the night and he decides to raise the household; removing Black Tot from the laundry basket into which she has plunged as soon as my back is turned; checking that Arthur is on the balcony and not out hunting armadillos and going six rounds with the Alsatian who goes out, forgets why he wanted to go out, returns to base, drinks the water bowl dry, remembers why he wanted to go out, goes out, finds a bone overlooked earlier….by which time the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi has slipped in behind the sofa and the eviction process begins all over again.
I could have had a promising career as a bum bailiff had that animal come into my life earlier….

Finally getting to bed by the light of the bedside lamp I find that there is a well kent face missing.
The poodle.

Did she not come in with you?
Of course she did!
So where is she?
Try calling her!

We call.
Silence, not even a snuffle….Arthur, roused, scratches at the door.
I go out to see if she has been left behind on the balcony, or whether she is lurking, catlike, to trap a lizard.
No sign.
Did she get left behind in the house?
Lights on, evict Black Tot from the laundry basket and lock same in bathroom to prevent recidivism. The Alsatian wakes up, drinks the water bowl dry again and wishes to go out. And in. And out….
While a shadow slips silently behind the sofa….
No sign of the poodle.

Lights are on on the bedroom into which Arthur has insinuated himself.
My husband is lying on the floor looking under the bed….
Arthur is lying on the bed watching him with interest….
Arthur removed with swipe from towel.
Arthur stands, immobile, looking towards the wardrobe…then his periscope ears begin to swivel.
The right hand door of the wardrobe moves slightly; Arthur leaps in – and shoots out backwards bow legged in a flurry of jerseys and tee shirts.

Those of you who know the Moomin books will know of ‘Moominland in Midwinter’ where as part of Moomintroll’s advenntures he encounters the hairy eyebrowed Dweller Under the Sink
dweller under the sink

The Dweller was not pleased to be disturbed from his hibernation….and the poodle was not pleased to be disturbed from its nest in the wardrobe, carefully fashioned from the softer elements of the clothes contained therein.
It had expended thought and energy on building its shelter against the wild elements and did not take kindly to being disturbed.
It had, faced with the Trade Winds, found a better ‘ole and gone to it, only to be rousted out by a hairy brute with no finer feelings.
Low growls punctuated by high pitched snarls rent the air. The boot button eyes flashed like the rising sun on the obsidian of the sacrificial knife.

Chastened, Arthur slunk back to the balcony.
Chastened, we went to bed and turned out the light.
The wardrobe door creaked slightly.
From the house the unchastened Costa Rican King Charles Corgi made the night hideous until a yelp indicated that the Alsatian had had enough.
The poodle growled a last low warning – and the household slept.

The poodle has the right idea….if things don’t suit you as they are, look for a better ‘ole.

But try to reconnoitre the ‘ole first….otherwise you run the risk of finding that you have swapped one pit of evil smelling slime for another. Not so easy under fire, agreed, but when you have the leisure for investigation – do it. It won’t save you from all nasty surprises, but at least you will have avoided the main ones.

I thought of this last night.
I was too tired to read so turned on the box and enjoyed the latest episodes of the French police thriller ‘Engrenages’ which the BBC translates as ‘Spiral’, all bad language, bad behaviour and attitude on the part of all concerned.
Then I flicked through the other offerings and found one of those ‘Escape Anywhere Abroad’ programmes, where smarmy presenters drag starry eyed punters round unsuitable properties in unsuitable places to the sound of unsuitable background music.
If it’s an accordion, it must be France, and France it was.

The punters on this occasion were a retired couple, comfortably off, who had holidayed in France for years and now wished to make a permanent move. They wanted a house – their sanctuary – with room for the family to visit, a swimming pool ditto, and some land – for reasons which would become clear.
They also planned to use it to run therapeutic courses for retired people – keeping the husband’s hand in as a psychotherapist.

Viewing the first house – and all subsequent ones – the wife would exclaim…
‘Oh, so French….shutters…’ and they would move off on a voyage of exploration.

The presenter walked them through the big open plan kitchen..
‘Oh, I can see myself here, cooking and talking …and – maybe – a glass of wine!…’
The sitting room, where the stairs to the top floor made a bad impression…to the main bedroom which he suggested would be ideal for people attending the courses.
‘Oh no!’
‘We’re not having them in the house….they’ll be in tents outside.

Thus the need for land.

They reminded me of an American I met – briefly – here. He was explaining to an admiring group how he had found and purchased a vast tract of land on which to build his dream home – and then came his Damascus moment:

‘It was so beautiful that it wouldn’t have been right to keep it to myself…I just had to share it!’

I took it upon myself to explain to the group that he was selling plots of building land rather than indulging a philanthropic whim and he was not best pleased, thus the brevity of our encounter.

On the box the search continued…all the properties would need revamping – even if the paying visitors were destined to remain under canvas – and at no point did the presenter mention planning permission, let alone costs….and certainly didn’t mention the formidable formalities entailed when setting up a business.

He took them to meet expats who could show them the ropes….put them wise to the pitfalls….
They themselves had lived in France only six months, did not speak French and the only advice on offer was to be aware that draught beer was not available in the locality.
A lot of talk about the French this and the French that….but without French how would they have known?

Cut to the couple making breakfast in the kitchen of the first house, which had been lent them for the duration of their visit.
The wife is breaking eggs into a frying pan….
‘Fresh eggs from the farmer…’
The yolks are pale and the whites spread across the pan in the best traditions of an egg which has seen better days …many better days….

The husband is cutting up a baguette….it is taking him a great deal of effort. He clearly has one of the French rural bakery specialities – brick hard dough surrounded by crust resembling razor wire.
‘That’s the thing about France, the bread is fresh, not like the stuff in England which lasts ten days…’

Clearly the couple weren’t going to buy any of the places they had been shown…they were coming back to explore the area at leisure….but if their knowledge of France was as stereotyped as it appeared to be, and if they were incapable of telling fresh eggs from stale I reckon that they will need all the money they have to cushion themselves from the realities.

‘.

Danger! Men at Work!

The view from the cafetal
The view from the cafetal

This will be the view from the terrace of our new house up in the cafetal. At the moment only the foundations have been laid and the whole project will take some months to complete as it is an ‘in-house’ job, but it is advancing at a steady forward creep, having overcome the usual administrative hurdles whose purpose might best be expressed as ‘you can’t do that there ‘ere’.

Well, you can, but only after jumping through the usual hoops and parting with extravagant amounts of money in order that your own plans should be signed off by a real architect, who estimates the building costs and takes a fixed percentage fee based on his own estimate….
But exorbitant though that fee might be it’s a damned sight worse if you are rash enough to get him to do the plans as well.
Apart from involving a delay of several months while he takes a holiday on the upfront portion of the fee, then recovers from the holiday, then it’s Christmas and New Year with the family at the beach and only when January ends does he run short enough of money to think of completing the job.
Together with all the others he has been sitting on for months.

You have to be careful, too, that the house does not run the danger of being considered – for tax purposes – as ‘luxurious’ which would bring it into a higher tax bracket.
The money raised from this tax is supposed to be applied to improving the standards of housing of the poor, but as the body supervising this process believes that charity begins at home and is busy rehousing its relatives on the proceeds, both from a fiscal and moral point of view it is better that the house is not classed as luxurious.

We had thought to build a house here before – and then changed our minds. Luckily…. as the Italianate villa with a tower that we had first had in mind would have seen us paying enough annual tax to enable the supervisory body to house the entirety of its sisters and its cousins, whom it reckons up in dozens and its aunts.

We like our original house, tucked in as it is under the hill, but despite adding a balcony and extra bedroom it is bursting at the seams and we need something larger, if only to house the books.

There is, too, the fact that we are not getting any younger and it would make things easier to be on flat ground.
While indoors is fine with the current house, going out involves walking steeply up or downhill to get to garden, stables or pool.
Up on the top, with a bit of leveling, we have a flat area all around the house and on a lower level, another flat area on one side for housing for the sheep, cattle and poultry and on the other side somewhere flat for the veg garden.

Planting on the approaches
Planting on the approaches

A house, however, is nothing without its surroundings, so we spent part of the last rainy season transporting the plants Leo had been growing on in pots up to the house site, to give an avenue of palms interplanted with gingers in the short term…to be ruthlessly hacked out should they start to run amok. Thugs they may be, but they are beautiful when in flower.

gingers in flower
gingers in flower

Not that beauty was lacking to start with….
arriba 018
This tree gives the pink fleshed guavas I use to make jelly and I love its shape.

But the guava now has company.

unluxurious residence for tax purposes...
unluxurious residence for tax purposes…

This bijou residence is where Danilo spends the night – and will continue to spend the night while materials and tools are on the site, as the entrance from the road is now wide open and he worries about theft.

Down towards the road
Down towards the road

He is not alone. He has his two dogs for company, Calamardo and Rowley.
Calamardo is a black and tan specimen, rangy and intelligent.
Rowley is a brown pit bull type, stocky, half blind and single minded.
Both are lovely dogs once you get to know them, but while getting to know Calamardo is easy, approaching Rowley makes the etiquette of ancien regime Versailles look like a picnic.

You have to be accompanied by Danilo as master of ceremonies: you do not arrive on foot – if you wish to retain same.
On arrival, Rowley will hurtle towards you, to be intercepted by Danilo. You may then open the car door – and leave it open for Rowley to sniff you and the car. He circles you widdershins several times and then pees on a tyre.
You are now accepted at court.
The next time you arrive Rowley will hurtle towards you and give you a lick. Half blind he may be but his sense of smell is acute.

I have not discovered what happens if he does not pee on a tyre…but having seen him demolishing the thigh bones of oxen with consummate ease I prefer not to contemplate the prospect.

So far no attempts at theft have been made….but Danilo has had other visitors.

Further along the road is a spot much frequented by those seeking a little privacy for their romantic interludes and not willing or not able to pay for a couple of hours in one of the many ‘pay by the hour’ hotels, the car windows open to the warm night air.
You can estimate the usage by the number of takeaway boxes and cans of soft drink thrown from said windows into the hedge alongside.

Well, the top photograph shows the view in daytime…at night too it is a beautiful spot under the stars and the wide open entrance has, of course, attracted business from the hedgerow.

Danilo reckons it takes just a few moments after the car starts bouncing on its springs before the couple realise that they are not alone….Calamardo at one window, Rowley at another, breathing heavily.
Collapse of stout party guaranteed.

He was telling us about this over coffee this morning when Don Freddy called in.
He looked grave.

You should take a few precautions, you know…

The dogs won’t hurt them….they’re only curious.

No no…you should take a torch and pencil and paper.

Whatever for?

To note down the number plates of course! Don’t you see…you could look them up on the Registro Nacional the next day and threaten to tell their wives!
You could make a fortune!

Meet Monty

Monty
Monty

Monty was born three weeks ago, but his mother rejected him. So, instead of being outside with this lot:

Four baby lambs, two three weeks old, two a fortnight old.
Four baby lambs, two three weeks old, two a fortnight old.

Monty is living in the house….and spending more time in the garden as he grows increasingly independent.

His mother and another ewe gave birth to twins on the same day – and both mothers rejected the males; butting them away quite roughly, so we took them into the house.
One little chap was just too weak to make it, and we thought we had lost Monty too on the second morning. We looked into his box expecting the worst…but a little grizzled head was lifted slightly, and Monty battled on.

Leo spent endless time getting him to take milk – he had no idea of sucking, so Leo rehydrated him first with water around his mouth, then rubbing milk into his lips until his mouth opened…and then coaxing him to take milk from the bottle.
And why Leo?
Because when he was a little boy of seven, his sister was born and his job was – when he had done his homework, finished his rows of weeding in the garden and washed up after supper – to get the baby girl to take a bottle before rocking her to sleep in her pram. No easy task, from what he remembers!
He reckoned that if he could get his sister to take a bottle, Monty would be no problem…and so, after a day of patient coaxing, it proved to be.

Monty slept and drank, slept and drank….and then began to take an interest in his surroundings. He tried to latch onto the Alsatian – who fled to the sofa and then, as Monty became capable of reaching the sofa himself, would take one look at the approaching lamb and head for the hills…

The Alsatian, legging it
The Alsatian, legging it

So Monty is making do with Leo….

Leo and the Lamb
Leo and the Lamb

We bought the sheep last year – with a view to mutton – and they were a distinctly mixed lot.
Monty’s colouring is predominantly that of the Barbados Blackbelly breed – apart from the white tip on his tail – but you can see from the photograph of the other four that they are a decidedly diverse little bunch!
We certainly won’t be winning any prizes for best in breed, but they are easy to keep, out on the pasture in the early morning to get the grass while it is wet with dew, then up to the shelter in the heat of the day to chew the cud and vociferously demand extra rations of sugar cane and banana stems – vastago – chopped small.
Taking a bucket of bananas in to them needs a talent for swift movement, otherwise their sharp little hoofs have your feet pinned to the ground in seconds while they jostle for the contents.

And Monty?
The aim is to wean him and reintroduce him to the others…he accompanies Leo into the shelter to cut cane and, while not exactly accepted, is not attacked either, so the next step will be to go out on the pasture with him for increasing lengths of time.

That’s the aim…..but I wouldn’t be altogether surprised to find that we have to get another sofa for a sheep….because these two won’t be too pleased

Fifi and Tot
Fifi and Tot

if Monty takes over their bed….

Bed? Whose bed?
Bed? Whose bed?

That Christmas Spirit

No, not Highland Park….at least, not to start with.

By December 23rd I had done my shopping and was looking forward to battening down the hatches for a quiet Christmas….just a trifle to make and that was it.

So on Christmas Eve we were having breakfast on the balcony and looking forward to a peaceful day when our new neighbour arrived at his corral to feed his cattle.

His corral being the other side of the track and downhill from our place.

To encourage himself he switched on the local radio station giving all of us the benefit of its early morning programme …..the one before the playing of the national anthem at seven o’clock.
The programme format is that the announcer rings up unwary people chosen at random and asks them to dedicate a piece of music and to choose the style they prefer.

Early rising is common here, luckily, but even given that people tend to be somewhat terse, except the odd granny who intends to include her whole extended family in the dedication together with a description of the qualities and qualifications of each and every one, so the announcer generally has things his own way, the choice of music being between ‘romantica’ and ‘ranchero’.

Unfortunately, this was Christmas Eve, and the announcer was in festive mood – awash with the Christmas spirit.
Romantica and ranchero were not enough.
He offered Christmas music….

So once again I suffered the same syrupy guff that had made life hideous in the previous weeks…and then came the final coup de grace.

Jingle Bells.

Jingle Bells performed by dogs.

Our canine horde, busy rootling under the table for unconsidered trifles, showed no hesitation.
Led by the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi they charged from the house as one, howling like the hounds of Herne the Hunter and heading for the corral, where their canine counterparts were woofing all the way.

Passing the neighbour at a fair lick they seized his radio, the Alsatian maintaining possession despite smart work in the scrum from the hairy brute with ears like periscopes and making his run for the line to smash the radio to pieces on the steps of our porch.

Deeply satisfied, all trotted back to the balcony to receive the congratulations of their admiring public, ears up and tails wagging.

Closely followed by the new neighbour, torn between laughter and exasperation.

Served with coffee and bacon sandwiches, laughter won.

But I felt obliged to go out shopping again to buy him another radio.

Ho, ho, sodding ho!