Monday, February 23, 2009

Pigs In a Blanket

By Katharine Frances Barbour

It was a dark and stormy night when we finally reached our hotel, Leaves & Lizards, overlooking Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano. It had taken nine long, hard hours to get there from Samara.

The owners of Leaves & Lizards also ran a farm across the road. After we looked around the hotel, we headed toward the barn. It had nine horses and about fifty chickens and four turkeys. I was most interested in a cement stall in which stood a pregnant piece of bacon. Well, it was not bacon yet but if my dad had a knife we would have had a nice breakfast. The pig was as big as a full-size refrigerator. I didn’t want to go in the stall because I was afraid of getting crushed to death.

The owner, Debbie, said that the pig might have its babies that night. She promised that she would wake us up if that happened. The next day, though, the pig still had not given birth. So, we set off to do chores with the caretaker, Carlos. We collected the eggs, and fed and brushed the horses. We could not milk the cow because it was away getting bred with a bull.

Every time we returned from a hike or a trip, we would look in and see if the pig had had her piglets. Four days went by without any piglets, but on the fifth day she had them. Thirteen little piglets, three girls and ten boys. They were brown, pink, pink with black spots, and brown with black spots. When you picked one up, it would scream like crazy. They sounded like human babies. I thought they were adorable.

I sat in the stall with the piglets for hours watching them. They would fight over milk and get squashed by each other. They fell asleep drinking milk. My favorite piglet was the first born. He was pinkish-white and the size of both my hands. He was one of the weakest, probably a runt. He would try to get milk but he wasn’t tall enough to reach it, so he would go to the bottom and get squashed.

Debbie said that the strongest piglets would go in a different pen after six weeks, and the runts would stay for a couple more weeks with their mom.

On the last day my brother and I got to milk a cow. Milking the cow felt really cool because the udders were like jets. When you squeezed a teat, the milk would shoot everywhere. We got 2 gallons of milk. Debbie and her husband Steve will make cheese, butter, and buttermilk with it.

Miss Piggy,um, where's Kermit?

Jamón, Proscuitto, Serrano, Cappacola, Chorizo, Smithfield...

I'm calling him Bacon!

Boston Butt?

Udderly fascinating.

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.

Go With the Flow

By Graham

We were walking on a small trail winding in and out of the Costa Rican jungle. In the distance we could see our destination, Volcano Arenal. One of six active volcanoes in Costa Rica, Arenal looks just the way you would imagine: It’s a perfect cone. Rain forest covers the lower slopes, while higher up the mountain is bare volcanic rock. Steam pours out of the crater at the top.

About halfway along the trail, we heard a sound like thunder. What could it be? Was it a storm? Emerging from the jungle, we came face to face with a wall of volcanic rock. It was about 20 feet high and was formed during an eruption in 1992. When we reached the top, we all gasped. We had a great view of Arenal. We hiked over the old lava flow until we reached the end of the trail. We could go no further because of the danger of being caught in an eruption. I climbed to the top of a very tall rock. There I sat and watched the mountain.

Suddenly, I saw dust billowing up on the right flank of the volcano and heard the rumbling noise again. An eruption sent half-molten boulders bouncing down the mountain. They sounded like a wrecking ball destroying a building. Because we were so far away, the boulders looked like little black marbles, but they were actually about the size of a tractor-trailer. A massive cloud of dust and smoke exploded behind them.

We all thought of how painful it would be to be flattened by one. Now we are excited about hiking the dormant volcano Tenorio.