Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vampire Bats and a Visitor from Transylvania

“I noticed the light was left on in the barn the last couple nights.”
“Yes, it’s to slow down the vampire bats.”
“Whoa! We’ve got vampire bats here in Costa Rica?”
“Yes. They aren’t too much trouble for a full grown cow, but can do some damage to a calf if they’re left out on their own.”  Gaura's Canadian pronunciation sounds like ‘oot on their oown’. Carrying a bucket of milk from the barn, with his ragged flannel shirt and unshaven face he looks like a rather thin Canadian lumberjack climbing the hill to the temple kitchen. 
Gaura the Canadian

A few days later, another Canadian appeared.
We soon learned that Teo is from the province of Transylvania.
“How do Romanians feel about Dracula’s fame?” I had to ask,” Is there any truth to the legend, any accuracy in the movie?”
“They’re not too happy about it. Actually, Dracula is kind of a hero in our country. He was a brutal leader, but very fair and just. There was no crime at all under his regime. If money was found in the street, no one would dare take it. It would be turned in to the guards for fear of punishment.”
“What kind of punishment?”
“He was known as Vlad the Impaler. He would leave the bodies of his enemies on display, impaled on spears as an example to anyone who would disobey the law.  It was a very slow and painful death, as I’m sure you can imagine. However, he also did a lot of good for the country. He conquered the neighboring enemies, fixed the economy, eliminated corruption and brought peace and prosperity to the region.”
“But you say he was fair?”
“Yes, because he would punish only those who deserved it.  There’s a story of a visiting merchant who heard of a rather fat coin purse that had been turned in to the guards. His greed must have got the better of him because he actually decided to swindle Vlad and claim it for his own.
 “How many gold coins are in the purse you’ve lost?” Dracula asked him. “100”, said the merchant who had been tipped by the guards. “Count it and make sure it is yours.” Dracula said after adding an extra gold coin. The merchant counted and succumbed to his greed once again, pretending not to notice the extra coin. “Is this correct? “ Dracula asked, “Yes”, “Then go”. Unfortunately for him, Dracula signaled the guards behind his back and as the happy merchant approached the door, he was stopped by the guards who drew their swords.  It is said that the merchant’s wail of terror was heard throughout the entire province when he realized the fate that now awaited him.”
“Out of greed for one gold coin, the merchant lost his life. We live in a brutal world Teo, this is a good lesson for keeping our integrity at every moment."
"Yes, the laws of nature can be brutal, but they are always fair.", replied Teo as he sank his Transylvanian teeth into a Costa Rican melon.
"One who does good is never overcome by evil",quoting Bhagavad Gita(6:40) I commented, "A power stronger than Vlad the Impaler is keeping the balance. Our only concern is to keep proper conduct, we'll get all we deserve."
Teo sunk his Transylvanian teeth into a melon.
"We must have done something good to deserve these melons"

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eat a Palm Tree ?

A back hoe intruded one quiet afternoon.
He carved a flat space, a ‘shelf’ out of a steep hillside.
Unfortunately, one of the palm trees was in the way. 
The tree was intact, though horizontal, “Can we transplant it somewhere?” I asked.
“Transplant it? I WANT TO EAT IT.”
Nitai told me about the last tree that had been downed. The inner core is sort of like celery or bamboo shoots.  I’ve had ‘Hearts of Palm ‘ from a can before, but never seen it freshly harvested.  The next morning I heard a chain saw. 


 Later in the day a large club shaped item appeared at the door to the kitchen.

 With a tinge of guilt we had a delicious pasta salad with chunks of the palm’s heart, arugula from the garden and fresh cheese from our cow.
Many more palm trees are scheduled for planting in the rainy season.  That eases some of the guilt of enjoying the heart of this ancient tree.

Wants to eat a palm tree.
The new 'shelf', minus a palm tree.

My home for the last couple weeks, covered with palm leaves, shower and outhouse in the background. The view from the shower is unsurpassed by any of the finest homes.           

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fantastic Bargains in Costa Rica !

 A nearby farm grows melons.
$2 buys a dozen.
I invested $6 and felt rich, with plenty to share and enough to eat my fill.
They’re very sweet.
After finishing one, the natural tendency is to have another, then another.
Why not?
They're less than 17 cents each. 

                                                                        During lunch one day, a monk began an inspired speech. “What if just by wanting it, one could get money? “
We had been studying and discussing a 17th century text describing the step by step progression in bhakti, reaching total absorption in love for God.
“It doesn’t happen that way.", he continued, "You’ve got to work to get money. Yet Bhakti is available simply by wanting it. There is one condition though; you have to want only bhakti and nothing else.”
Time was suspended as the monk brought new light to our studies.
“We have so many other desires in our heart. They are well established, like multi storied corporate buildings with lavish advertising.  Meanwhile we’ve let bhakti move in, she’s got a little kiosk in the mall, hardly noticeable. “
This was getting very interesting; all the monks paused from their meal hoping he would continue.
“Desires for wealth, fame, and sensual pleasures are all well established, but bhakti is patiently sitting there with her product.  Gradually we become frustrated by these other commodities, and bhakti becomes more attractive. What we don’t see is that she is sabotaging these other desires. She destroys their foundation and they begin to topple until she is the only store left.”
“And then she gives her product to you for free.” I added.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Adventure-Walking from Atlantic to Pacific Oceans

Ever since I’ve seen the map in grade school I’ve wanted to do this. It’s such an insignificant strip of land between these two huge oceans, how can anyone resist walking these 50 miles? 

Shyamachandra gave us a ride to Colon on his way to work. Dropping us near the beach he warned, “Colon can be dangerous, don’t spend much time downtown, and keep an eye on your things.”  Narayan and I touched the Atlantic Ocean and headed southeast to the Pacific.


The residents of Colon that we had been warned of were starting to awaken. The walkway became crowded with people saying things to us that we didn’t understand, sometimes laughing, and sometimes threatening. “Just keep walking and show no fear.” I coached Narayan. We made it through the downtown unscathed.  
Voodoo ?

 Three days later, in Panama City, we walked through the lobby of the $400 million dollar Trump
Hotel to reach the Pacific Ocean.

We each drank more than a gallon of water the first day.
We hadn’t walked the entire route as planned. The first day we covered 17 miles on the noisy and rough roadside. There was no shade, no peace, not exactly something you want to do on your day off. In the dismal heat of the day we watched a crew working on power poles. One rope for his left thigh, another for his right foot, the lineman worked his way up.

His helper below conversed in perfect English and accepted a book from us about Karma.”How can we say, ‘we’re walking from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans?” I asked.  He wrote,”NOSOTROS CAMINAMOS DEL ATLANTICO AL PACIFICO"

Former Pole Climber?
I practiced saying ‘nosotros caminamos….’as we continued the walk. Narayan was skeptical, “What if he was playing a trick on us and it means something really weird in Spanish.”
“Well there’s only one way to find out.”, I tried the phrase while we took a break in the shade. The recipient didn’t laugh at us or get angry, rather he appeared impressed and surprised. He said something about tres dias and I agreed that it will most likely take three days.
We made it as far as a small place called El Valle. You won’t find it on any map, but that’s where we’ll resume our walk if we ever try again. We heard rumors that someday a nice trail will be made from coast to coast. Walking on a hot, noisy road is not particularly pleasant.  We opted to take a couple rides to reach our destination; one of the rides was in the notorious diablo rojo buses. These had been roaring past us all day, spewing fumes, sounding their air horn anytime they sighted a woman younger than 60.


Upon boarding the bus we were disoriented by the flashing disco lights and loud music. The seats were all taken as well as most of the standing room. Much of the windshield had been painted with elaborate designs so we couldn’t see where we were going. My primitive Spanish must appear like Tarzan talk to these people, “Villa Zaita where?  Big distance? How many? Thank you.”
We’re riding the Tumba Muerto bus. A loose translation means, ‘the tomb of death’, which the driver announces at all stops, calling out ,”TUMBA MUERTO, TUMBA MUERTO, TUMBA MUERTO !”, so  passengers will know this bus will take them to the tomb of death.
I wonder how such a happy name has come about. No one seems to know or care. That’s just the name it is. Every road has several names, and you have to know all of them and assess the age of the person you are speaking to in order to guess which name he will know the road by.  No one has been able to change the Tumba Muerto name, which is fine with me, I’m glad our stop is on this well-known and easy to find road.

Inappropriate Laughter

Every morning after an hour of kirtan and prayer, the group of monks sits to chant gayatri.
It is a focused moment as the sun rises, a dozen of us sitting together in silent meditation. This morning I had a difficult time keeping from breaking out in laughter.
Sounds of the monkeys in the distance reminded me of last night’s episode. One of the workers spied a monkey overhead and imitated their sounds. A tree full of monkeys responded, several other groups of monkeys responded to them making a big ruckus followed by human laughter.
My smile went undetected and I was able to repress the urge to laugh out loud. This tendency of laughing at things going on in my head has gotten me into trouble more than once, especially when I was younger. I’m glad that it still exists, though it continues to cause awkward moments.

Bus from Costa Rica to Panama

The bus is comfortable, except for the movies showing constantly. The first two were shown quietly in English with subtitles in Spanish, now we’re  enduring big momma’s house in Spanish at full volume.
After 3 weeks of peaceful life on the farm, away from any TV or modern distractions we’re on our way to adventures in Panama. We’ve taken for granted the hydroelectricity, home grown grains, vegetables, and milk, kirtans and group study morning and evening, we’ve forgotten how the rest of the world lives and are now thrust into the silliness of Hollywood.
Leaving San José at noon, the bus is scheduled to arrive the next day at 4 AM , 16 hours  making it a bargain at $2 an hour for the ride.
We stopped to buy fruit before boarding;  papaya, a large chickoo, though they called it something else, grenada, avocado, small sweet bananas.  They make a lot of sweets similar to burfi from milk, though we didn’t try any this time.
It’s a pretty friendly place for vegetarians if you don’t mind black beans and rice which is available everywhere, even at the bus stop on the ride down. $2 buys a healthy sized plate.
After waiting 2 hours in 3 lines to cross the border into Panama, then bouncing through the night trying to sleep, I was beginning to wonder if we were having  fun yet.
The bus finally approached the terminal, an hour later than scheduled. I felt sorry for the devotees who had rushed out to meet us at 4 AM giving up their precious morning quiet to wait for a bus that refused to show up. “How are they going to recognize us?” Narayan asked. “They will” My head was not even half way out the bus door when I spotted a hand waving to me. Though we had never met, we instantly felt like old friends, completely at ease together as we picked out our luggage and headed for their car.
Shyamachandra and his wife RadhaGovinda  expressed no complaints about the late running bus and seemed genuinely happy to have us in their home.
It was a slight culture shock to resist the habit of shaking out each pillow and stripping down the bed in search of scorpions or other minor pests. (Narayan found a scorpion in his sweatshirt the second day on the farm.)