Friday, February 12, 2010




It had started out as a simple healthful Sunday morning walk. Up through the Bamboo Family’s property, up and across the creek and up, up, up. Well frankly, I hadn’t known there was going to be so much up involved, but there was, so I went. I was with Linda and Jackie and they’re both pretty good walkers, and I figured I’d better hold my own so I did. We were doing some pretty good sweating because every turn seemed to turn into another turn and they all were going up.

When we finally got to the Camino de Suenos sign I was ready for a breather and Jackie informed us that the worst was over and we were almost there. We headed down that road, which was nice and shady and crossed into Lillian’s property. Since that was where we were going, we eased up our pace a bit and wandered past a house that we’re interested in and up the drive past a couple of others. The view was spectacular and the ocean was blue and there were horse pastures and corrals and stalls; all the trappings of a real ranch. Jackie said, “Let’s stop in and see Lillian and tell her we’re here.”

We climbed up a bit farther, since it is all about getting to the “view” when you live in the coastal mountains here, and got to the front of Lillian’s house. There was a big wrought iron gate, a big dog on a chain, and there was Lillian, waving and calling out to us from upstairs in her house. She trotted downstairs, unchained the big dog and wandered away, talking over her shoulder like she does. Her parting words were, "Get acquainted with the dog." The dog wandered over and we set about getting acquainted.

He sure was a big guy, coming up nearly to my hip with a head bigger across than my splayed hand. Jackie informed us that he had just returned from a week long visit to the vet after a tangle with some of the local wildlife. I commiserated and stroked the top of his huge head. He was good, I was good, so I stroked his head some more and told him what a good guy he was. I rubbed his giant floppy ears and he seemed to like that too, so I chucked him under the chin a bit. Lillian called something to us, from up in the house again, the dog and I both turned and then he whirled around and slashed at my right hand and ambled off.

It happened like lightning and in disbelief I looked at Linda and said, “I think he bit me.”I looked at my hand and there seemed to be a long white crease running from the base of my right thumb to near my wrist. It was oh, so white, and then it was very, very red. The blood seeped up and out of it with my pulse and was thick and bright. I think Linda said, ‘Oh My God” and then Jackie said, “Did he bite you?”

I told myself to breath while everyone seemed to run around me. Jackie ran to I don’t know where and returned with gauze. She slapped it on my hand and we watched it soak through. Lillian appeared in a panic and ran in several circles trying to do too many things at once. Linda stood at my side and held my hand, saying, “Are you all right?” Lillian reappeared with a tube of something golden brown and much, much more gauze.We all agreed that the clinic must be called and trooped upstairs to Lillian’s deck.

She scrabbled for phone numbers and scrabbled for Tylenol, returning with three that I already knew weren’t going to do much good. She and Jackie couldn’t decide where the number for the clinic would be so I reminded them that it might be in one of the local magazines, published for locals and tourists alike. Everyone kept asking me if I was okay, but all things considered, I was fine. It was a dogbite, not that dissimilar to a nasty restaurant cut and nothing would be gained by freaking out. “Breathe”, I told myself again.

The calls were made to Dr. Mauricio, who runs our local clinic; pulling him away from his family on this Sunday and within minutes we were tumbling down the hill in Lillian’s 4X4. And we talked about all kinds of odd and unrelated things as we bumped and clunked down the hill. Linda and Jackie were in the back where there were no seats so they bounced around more than we did in the front seat. We got to the clinic and Dr. Mauricio was not to be seen.

I didn’t want to sit in the car anymore so I got out and Lillian hightailed it for a payphone since none of us had had the foresight to bring a cell. I suppose we hadn’t felt I was going to get bitten by a dog that day. Anyway, just as soon as Lillian took off across the highway, the doctor arrived and we were treated to some unintentional humor as he talked to her on his cell while she was 200 yards away on the payphone, yelling and asking him where he was. He and I walked into the back part of the office and the fun began.

Dr. Mauricio is a great guy, young and very calm and patient. He has treated me for a Papalamollo infection, wasp stings and now this, the dog bite. He put my hand over a tray, glopped on more gauze and went about gathering his things. We both kept wiping the blood away, which was, if I haven’t mentioned before, plentiful. Then he got the anesthetic needle out and filled it up. I could hear the three women in the waiting room telling stories of their own cuts and wounds. I always think its funny that things like this bring out the history of others. Cooks do this with knife cut stories.

A Costa Rican doctors office is pretty Spartan. There’s a table for the patient, a couple of medicine cabinets and not much more. And oh yeah, no nurses, which is how I ended up holding two suture clamps keeping my wound closed while Dr. Mauricio did a crude stitching in my palm using something that looked way too much like a fishhook without the barb. If this had been the US, I would never have seen my hand, would never have watched with a detached curiosity as the doctor probed me over and over again with the anesthetic needle until I was nearly numb and would never, ever have participated in my own procedure. And as I said, if I had been in the US, I would never have seen my hand; it would have been slung out to my right, over a tray with two or three people attending to it. But this is Costa Rica.

Dr. Mauricio and I both breathed heavy sighs of relief as he finished tying off the final knot. Him, I suppose because it wasn’t really how he had planned to spend his Sunday morning and me, because in all the exploratory applying of the anesthetic, a lot of areas had gone un-numbed and the entire process had been a bit more painful than I was initially prepared for. There was still a lot of blood lying around and he cleaned and wiped while I stood up and admired the six somewhat widely spaced crude stitches. Again, in the US, this would probably have been between 12 and 15 nicely arranged stitches, but here it was six and that’s just the way it was. The doctor wrapped me up awkwardly (how does one tape around a thumb?) and off I went into the waiting room where the three women were.

Lillian dropped Linda and me off at home while she drove up the hill to plunder her cabinets for medical supplies. I gulped a handful of Tylenol and Linda and I got ready to drive up to La Cusinga to tell them I wouldn’t be working that night, or, it seemed, for the next several. Another Costa Rican adventure and a rare Sunday at home, but a tough way to get it.

1 comment:

  1. Tough struggle. So unfortunate. Hoping for a happy(ish) ending.


Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me

This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.