Tuesday, November 2, 2010


A letter from the tropics...

Well, my, hasn't it been "a week" down here; quite a week.

(After I'd written this the Giants went ahead and won the World Series, we got a day and a half of sunshine and it has now been raining for 22 hours straight. Two major segments of the Costanera Highway that runs up and down the coast have fallen away and it is closed again today (or was earlier this afternoon). It has been a "rainy season" to beat all.)

Yes, there is, of course, that amazing Giants thing. I fire up my laptop and go to mlb.com where they have a program called "AT BAT" whereby one receives a computer generated image of a baseball field and a computer generated image of a batter, either left handed or right, in the appropriate uniform. The pitches appear on the screen as blue or red swooshes (for strikes and balls, silly) with their approximate location, speed and type of pitch listed along with them.

It's kind of hard to follow anything if there happens to be any action. For example if there is contact the little box on the screen says either "ball hit (out)", or "ball hit (not out)", or in some cases, "ball hit (not out/run(s))".

Now the good news is that when there is not a major storm, all of these images are accompanied by one's choice of audio feeds; it is available from the home radio station of either team. Naturally, I choose the broadcast from KNBR (no, no more KSFO with it's jingle sung in wonderfully sonorous tones), and get the Giants regular announcers, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, or, as they are known affectionately in the Bay Area, Kruk and Kuip (kipe). I also get the glorious crowd noise.

The bad news is when the weather is bad it cuts off the audio connection, which leads us to the second part of what has made this "a week". We have been getting supremely intense rainstorms which are washing away the mountains and the roads and causing the rivers to swell up over their banks to flood out farm and family.

FromThursday morning until Friday afternoon we got 30 inches of rain in 36 hours. And the rain is so loud that it is impossible to hear music, the audio broadcast of the game (when it does come through) or someone talking to you on the telephone. The front yard here at Uli's is a swamp and on Thursday night, the laundry room (attached to the house but a couple of inches lower than the threshold of the front door) was three inches deep in water.

The small bridge that crosses one of the many rivers about five miles north of Uvita finally gave up the ghost and became one with the river yesterday morning, shutting down the highway for the rest of the day and until around 8 this morning. It has since been fortified with stone from underneath and one lane is open, but another good rain will wipe it out again. 15 kilometers south of us, just above Ojochal, where I used to live, the dirt has been mostly washed out from under a portion of the highway and all that remains of the outside half of either lane is a thin layer of asphalt.

I suppose I don't need to point out (but still will) that the road remains open, because this is Costa Rica, but one can only hope people are approaching it with some degree of trepidation. There is a huge amount of semi-truck traffic between the Northern part of the country and Panama, and this is their major artery. I am presuming that shortly one of them will crack off the remaining parts of unsupported road top and the truck will tumble off the road. That should be fun.

Thursday I drove over the mountain to the Feria and although I left in a time of no rain, by the time I got to Dominical I had passed through four spots where the water was over the tires. If I hadn't cracked off one of my remaining original crowns and teeth, and had a dentist appointment in San Isidro I would have turned around and gone back home. But coming back home was when the real adventure began. The drive back down the mountain was treacherous, but as I came around a bend in the road, almost back to the coast, traffic was backed up in front of me. "Oh shit", I thought, "this just can't be good".

I got out of the car in the driving rain and walked up about 15 cars to have a look. Sure enough a huge portion of the hillside had slid and covered both lanes of the road just 1 kilometer out of Dominical. And it was a huge slide. There was no way it was going to be moved anytime soon and no way anyone was getting through for a while. I ran back to the car, turned around before the oncoming traffic got too thick and covered both lanes, and headed back over the mountain to San Isidro once again.

I gassed up in San Isidro and then, trusting my instincts and what I'd seen, I headed south down the Pan-American highway to take the really long way home. It is 48 K south to Buenos Aires and then another 50 K northeast to Palmar Norte. The road winds along a river and passes by all the Del Monte holdings. Lots of pineapples. Palmar Norte is at the bottom tip of the Costanera, the highway that runs from Dominical through Uvita and Ojochal. It is another 40 K from Palmar Norte to Uvita. The entire time I was making the drive I was wondering if I had been too impetuous; whether perhaps I should have waited.

As I was pulling into the La Cusinga driveway after just over two and a half hours on the road I got a phone call from the La Cusinga office wondering where I was and if I was okay. It seems that I had made the right choice (and gotten out just in time); the road was shut from Dominical to San Isidro and there were slides in several places. The road wasn't cleared until sometime after dark and the people who had elected to stay and wait it out had sat in their cars in a driving rainstorm for nearly seven hours. It is a glamorous life here...

Last night, because of the bridge closure just to the north of us, we inherited a small wedding party. They had booked a ceremony and dinner at Costa Paraiso, just down from Dominical, for their tiny (13 people) wedding and couldn't get to it. We were happy to take them and their business, so I had an unexpected 13 for dinner last night. Where the Lord closes a door he opens a window or something like that.

On a different and much happier subject, Kathy arrives in Costa Rica late the night of the 10th and after she spends some time with her good friends Terry and John, I will drive up to Jaco (accent "o") on Saturday the 13th to fetch her and bring her back here. I CAN'T WAIT!!!!!

So there you have it, all the news that fits. The skies are darkening over and I'm kind of glad that the bad roads have kept guests from the Lodge today and that I get to stay home and "watch" the Giants on the computer.

peace, love and serenity


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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.