I am enjoying a "dia libre" today, my first since I returned from Panama, just over four weeks ago. The Lodge has only a family of three as guests and I am enjoying the down time after the weekend opening of our in-house restaurant, The Gecko. It was a classic Costa Rican week in that it included at trip over the mountain to the Feria (farmers market), a 3 KM drive down a heavily rutted rural road in the rain to meet a new grower, the subsequent literal blowing of a gasket in the car on the final leg of the drive home, and almost secondarily, the opening of the restaurant. Nothing happens here the way it seems that it should. Pura Vida.
I make a weekly journey from my home here on the coast to the town of Perez Zeladon de General de San Isidro, not only one of my favorite town names of all time, but also the closest outpost of civilization. My trip is primarily to pick up produce from the Feria but I also include on my trips visits to the dentist, camera store and hardware stores. This particular trip was a typical one with stops at my favorite farmers stalls in the feria for organic lettuces, tomatoes, honey, goat cheese, blackberries and more; but was all the more important to me as this was the produce I would serve for the opening weekend of The Gecko.
Another important stop along the road back from this week's trip was a first time visit to the Finca EcoLoco, a gringo-run farm in the fertile valley of Alfombra, below the mountain-top village of Tinamastes. I had been contacted by Lynn, the farm owner (and ironically, a woman whose wedding I had catered at another hotel three years ago) about buying organic greens and tomatoes. My mission here is to source as many local and organic products as possible and I was excited about buying and cooking with new product. What I wasn't excited about was the steady ascent toward hot of the needle on the temperature gauge of my '91 Toyota Tercel as we climbed back up over the mountain. The road down into Lynn's finca (farm) is almost downhill and both the car and I were grateful for the change from climbing up to easing down.
Easing down it was, as the road, while passable for a small car, must be navigated somewhat carefully as the rocks and ruts will rise up to smack a low undercarriage if one happens to look away for just a moment.
And it is hard not to look away and just plain gape at the jungles that spring up on either side of the narrow red road. This mountain and valley are known for sudden rains and the valley is dense primary rain forest. There was heavy mist hanging in the trees giving a movie-set "enchanted valley" feel to the entire trip down. Unfortunately the change in altitude was not correcting the direction of the temperature gauge's needle. I reached the gate to Finca EcoLoco just as I was wondering whether or not to stop to let the engine cool. I swung the gate open and drove through the dense jungle/forest along the even narrower dirt road, across the small stream and up to the main houses of the finca proper. Lynn had advised me that she'd be out of town but that I was to ask for Bolivar or Marjorie, the Tico couple who ran the farm for her. Bolivar, shirtless and sleepy-eyed came out to greet me, followed my Marjorie, sturdy and business like.
The sample bag of greens was laid out on the table and it was indeed gorgeous; deeply red chards, ruby amaranth and shades of leafy green from deep to pale spilled out of the bag; kales, bok choy, even basil flowers. Equally nice was the half-kilo bag of mixed cherry tomatoes; yellow pears, sweet 100's and fat ovate reds. I was happy, they were happy, and Bolivar helped me to fill the radiator with water; although it seemed odd to both of us that we seemed to keep pouring and pouring it in. I was confident that except for my climb out of this deeply hidden valley that my car would coast easily and swiftly down the hill to the coast. I edged back out the jungle road and as I swung open the gate to let myself out the skies opened. The rain was sudden and dense. In the five steps from gate to car door I was soaked. The rain didn't fall, it hammered down, pounding a warning on the car roof. The drive back up the worn dirt and gravel road turned slippery and red mud streamed down the hill, torn loose instantly by the deluge.
As I drove I realized that my hands were clenched tight on the wheel and I heaved a deep breath, laughed somewhat nervously, and told myself to "Relax, take it easy, once you're at the top it's clear coasting. That would have been a fine philosophy but for the one wrench that had typically for here, been thrown in the works; a traffic stop for road and gutter clearing to keep the streets from flooding. That five minute stop may have been the final stop for all the water in the radiator. The entire way down the hill I let the car coast and turned off the engine for parts of it. All I wanted was to reach the flatlands and civilization. There is nothing on the way down the mountain. And a sure as the rain that falls from the sky, as soon as I hit the coast and drove a half mile, my little old Toyota, like a worn and weary horse, heaved and shook and I coasted to a stall on the side of the road. I'd made it this far, but had a car full of fresh produce and smoke pouring out from the engine block.
As fate, provenance and clean living would have it, the first car heading North was driven by John, the owner of La Cusinga and my temporary savior. We piled the bags and and cooler chest into his car, he turned South toward the taller (mechanic) and La Cusinga, and I was still on the road and in time for Opening Night.