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Archive for December, 2012

The bane of Costa Rican farmers

Or more commonly known as… the leaf cutter ant.

(Atta cephalotes)

An average nest contains over 5 million ants.  They will travel several hundred meters in search of the right kind of leaves, secreting a chemical trail along the way so they can always find the nest.  Each queen can lay up to 30,000 eggs each day, and if she dies, all the other ants die too.

They don’t even eat the leaves they work so hard to collect; they eat fungus and use the leaf pieces as compost to cultivate it.  Amazingly, if the ants collect plant material that is toxic to the fungus, the fungus seems to release a chemical signal which stops the ants collecting that particular plant material.  Neat, no?

Scientists who study these little six legged monsters creatures estimate that within the territory of a colony between 13- 20 percent of new plant growth each year is cut and removed.  In other words, RIP shrubbery.



This took just a couple of days, btw.

I bet if I worked at ANYTHING in life the way these teeny-tiny critters do I would be a decamillionaire and this blog wouldn’t exist because I would be busy shoe shopping… in Italy.


This is NOT our cat.

I just want to make that crystal clear, right off the bat.  You know, so there’s not a single ounce of confusion in your minds as you read this post.  When we first saw him, he had no name.  In fact, it was Sera who first noticed him, because someone at the community-soccer-food-get-together-thingie we went to around a week ago, had tossed him into the air and let him fall on the grass nearby.

Incredibly sad about what she saw, Sera picked him right up and held him the entire time we were there.  We bought food for ourselves and this tiny creature ate all the meat off of our plates while screaming meows at us in a way only a starving kitty would.  She called him Jingle.  Our friend asked if the cat would be coming home with us.  The answer was obviously, NO.  obviously.

So it came time to head home.  I won’t even tell you what happened, I’ll let the pictures tell the story of what we had to deal with.

I know.  I KNOW.

Except there was no way we were taking in a cat.  We decided before even moving here over a year ago that we would NOT get any pets, EVER!  Of course, we eventually took in three dogs from the local animal rescue group in Atenas, but a CAT?!  Absolutely not.




Cat’s stink.  They also make us sneeze.  A LOT.

no how, no way, no CAT.  EVER.

We told the kids to say goodbye to Jingle.  Naturally, Sera began to beg with tear filled eyes in a last desperate attempt, and then handed him over to me.



I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t put this kitten back down where it was so carelessly discarded earlier.  For all I knew we were the first to show this cat so much affection, feeding him so much food, and now what?  Put him back to save ourselves from seeing it starve to death?  Get hit by a car?  Or get tossed in the unwanted animal dumping ditch that’s in this area?  Where apparently dead cats/kittens are found all the time?  I broke.  I stood there holding this cat.  I couldn’t move.  I knew how complicated that minute with this cat in my arms had quickly become.  All of a sudden it wasn’t just about having to disappoint a little girl with brown eyes that make your heart melt, no, now it was about me having to abandon a kitty who maybe/kinda/sorta chose us.  I mean, no snowflake coconut falls in the wrong place, right?  Then there’s that whole starfish story….

So that’s when it started.  I begged.  Pleaded like the animal loving wuss that I am.  It went something like…

It will stay outside.

We’ll just bring it to the house to give it a fair chance.

It’ll probably run away anyway!

We’ll just feed it … and give it water … so we can feel like we did what we could.

It’ll probably run away anyway!

I SWEAR it will never EVER come in the house.

It’ll probably run away anyway!

If we leave him here, he’s going to DIE!!!

In the backyard he went.  On the back deck, actually, with a bowl of kitten chow, fresh water, and a bed for comfort.  He slept, and ate, and slept, and ate, as if it were the first time he’d ever done that so abundantly and so peacefully.  He loves it there.  Loves it SO MUCH he hasn’t left, and it doesn’t look like he will either with the seven sets of loving hands rotating around the clock.

And that’s the story of Jingle.  Who is clearly NOT our cat.



To PANAMA and back.

The roads between here and Panama are fantastic to drive on and the scenery is simply breathtaking.  I’ve accepted that here’s no way to capture the mountains in pictures and do them any kind of justice, but still I try.  The drive is roughly three hours each way, something like 309 kilometers, so we make sure to pack lots of food and snacks to keep everyone happy.

Palm plantation near the plant where they harvest palm oil.

Bulls making their way down the highway.  No one leading them.  I guess they know where they’re going!

The line to enter Panama.

It’s kind of funny, because you can freely walk between the Panamanian and Costa Rican border with no one asking a single question.  There’s a large mall right at the border where you can come out on either the Panamanian side or the Costa Rican side.  The first time Ivan made this trip, he didn’t even notice he had crossed the border!  Once he realized, he walked back over and got his stamps.  Of course, if you get any further on the roads in either direction you will find traffic officers checking your papers, but the actual border itself is a level of laid back you would NEVER see in North America!  There is no checking of your belongings; you can go shopping in Panama, bring your bags to your car in Costa Rica, walk back over to the mall for lunch, and back again.  It’s kinda cool.


Husbands note in regards to the Paos Canos border crossing:
People often hear that you’re required to leave Costa Rica for 3 days before returning back to the country. This is an old rumor that centers around the duty free exemptions. In reality, we checked with the immigration office in San Jose and were told that several people who work in San Jose drive to the border in the morning, have lunch, and drive back to San Jose in the afternoon, all in the same day. We’ve done this several times now. One time we actually arrived at the border in the afternoon and in a rush to return home before sundown, we simply signed out of Costa Rica, signed into Panama, went to the window next door and signed out of Panama, and then back into Costa Rica. Total time was 30 minutes in and out of Panama.


The most colorful cemetery I’ve ever seen.  It was really beautiful.

This was after around five hours of driving.  We’re almost home!

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