Monday, February 23, 2009

Ant She Sweet

By Andrew

I’m starting to worry about our children. While we were in Ecuador, I was tickled to see the children attack strange new foods with gusto: They would have made an anteater proud the way they hoovered up lemon ants in the Amazon jungle; a jaguar could not have dismembered a guinea pig with greater élan. If it moved, they ate it, mainly because the locals seemed happy to eat it, too.

With our shift to Costa Rica, I thought that such adventures were behind us. In many ways, Costa Rica could qualify as the 51st state. San Jose is a neon blur of McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Taco Bells, and Pizza Huts. Tour buses disgorge hordes of American and European visitors at the country’s major sights; expat Americans have built homes in every little beach hamlet. And, distressingly, our Spanish has ground to a halt because everyone seems to speak English rather well—certainly better than we speak Spanish.

I fully expected our kids to start ordering hamburguesas y papas fritas at every stop. A little American-style cholesterol to clear the palate. But no. It seems our kids have gone wild. Mowgli and Baloo have arrived in Costa Rica.

A week ago, we took a boat tour up the Rio Negro, on the Nicaraguan border. On board was a large family from Buffalo on spring break and a couple of newlyweds from Orlando. In many ways, it was a gentle repeat of earlier adventures. A guide pointed out howler and capuchin monkeys, caimans, sloths, and a wide variety of river birds.

Toward the end of the trip, the captain nosed the boat into the bank so we could disembark to look for roseate spoonbills in an adjoining marsh. The spoonbills had obviously run away with some dish, so we traipsed back toward the boat.

Graham suddenly gave a small cry, not dissimilar to the noise made by my mother upon opening a box of chocolate truffles. He bent down and picked up a dried acacia seed pod on which a few ants were visible.

“Can we eat them?” he asked the guide.

The guide, obviously unaware that our children were raised by wolves, misunderstood the question.

“The seeds? No, you cannot eat them. But look inside.” He broke the pod in two and termites poured out.

“We call these carrots of the forest,” he continued. “The indigenous people eat…”

He got no further before Katharine snared some termites from the pod and prepared for inhalation.

“No!!!!!” screamed a young university student from the Buffalo family, grabbing Katharine’s hand and wrenching it away from her mouth.

A look of utter confusion crossed Katharine’s face. Had she committed some breach of etiquette? Should she have offered her elders the termites first?

The student, who obviously felt that she had saved a challenged child from imminent harm, held Katharine in a vice-like grip while giving us an accusatory stare.

“Do they really taste like carrots?” asked Louise. “The last ones we ate tasted like citrus.”

Sensing that she was holding the cub of a deranged and possibly dangerous family, the student sprang away from Katharine, who immediately declared that it was snack time.

Graham and Katharine set about the termites, comparing tasting notes, while the student did dry heaves in the leaf litter by the boat.

Two days later, we were hiking with our guide through thick primary forest on the slopes of Volcan Tenorio, one of Costa Rica’s many dormant volcanoes. We stopped to examine a bullet ant, a very large specimen named for the extreme pain caused by its bite—and its sting.

“Can I eat it?” asked Graham. Slightly nonplussed, the guide explained that the mandibles of the ant would surely give your lip or tongue a nasty bite, to say nothing of the ant’s stinger.

“What if we ripped off its head and bottom and just ate the middle bit,” queried Katharine.

After that, the guide picked up his pace noticeably. I think he was worried about being caught in the rainforest with us after dusk.

1 comment:

Therese Mageau said...

I have been trying to explain to my stepdaughter and her husband (who have two kids about your kids' ages) how you are unlike any other family I have ever known. Well this entry says it all. I will have to share with them!