Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
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   hiking superpower
Saturday, February 18 2023

the northwesternmost casita at Toucan Hill, Montezuma, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

We got up early, as we've generally been doing, and immediately we were visited by a traveling group of howler monkeys. There a number of adults, some with babies on board, and then there were a few younger ones acting rambunctiously, as one might expect. One of the adults was missing most of his or her tail from some mishap, which was unfortunate since their tails are prehensile and help with manuevering through the trees. The monkeys tended to stay in the densest part of the foliage a couple dozen feet above the ground, and it was difficult for me to take a good picture, but eventually I did.
Soon after the howlers had passed through, a group of magpie jays arrived. They landed on the rails around the porch and squawked at us expectantly. Experimentally, Gretchen put some crumbs from some toast we'd just eaten in her palm and held it out, and, to our delight, one of the magpie jays landed on her arm and pecked them out of her hand. So then she went and got some bigger pieces of bread and did the same experiment, this time while I snapped pictures. We wondered if this murder (do they travel in murders?) of magpie jays go from one casita to the next looking for naive new tourists whom they can exploit with their exotic appearance and relative tameness, thereby obtaining treats of the sort we'd just given them.

Eventually we took a dip in the pool and then walked down the switchbacks into Montezuma with a plan of going to the falls on the Montezuma River. Four years ago when we were staying at Casa Trogon, we had access to a trail allowing us to reach the falls from above, but we don't have easy access to that trail from the casita we're in now.
On the walk down, we were overtaken by one of the women who had been in our casita when it was being turned over to us yesterday. Evidently she routinely walks back and forth between Montezuma and the highlands to its north. As she walked, she mentioned (in Spanish) the powerful winds we'd been experiencing. She said this was an entirely new thing and likely a consequence of climate change. She said it was affecting how buildings are constructed, as the old method of attaching roofs was no longer sufficient in such conditions.
As Gretchen and I passed the beach, we saw it was hosting a farmer's market (the Montezuma Beach Market), so we waded into that and had a look around. There were the usual displays of handmade jewelry and hand-painted art, though there was also food. One plump vendor was selling little vegan sandwiches made with fried plantain patties in place of bread. They looked good, so we bought two of them so we'd have something to eat at the falls. The guy selling them didn't seem to be in much of a hurry as he squirted them with a special reddish sauce he had in a squeeze tube. He seemed like he might be a little drunk, though perhaps he was just a really friendly guy embedded in the molasses of a tropical day.
Another vendor offered us a free sample of cold-pressed coffee, and it tasted so good I thought we should also buy a cup for me to drink on the way to the falls. We ended up having a fairly long conversation with a guy connected to the woman selling the coffee who runs some sort of high-end Costa Rican coffee import business in the United States. He said he was from Keene, New Hampshire, so I asked if he'd ever heard of the Clarence DeMar Marathon. He said he had, though he didn't know much about it. "He was my grandfather," I said. He then told us about how hippie Keene is, though he said it compared to Rhinebeck in this respect. Knowing Rhinebeck the way we do, his impression of that village is either extremely stale or his definition of "hippie" includes horse enthusiasts who prefer their Indian food completely flavorless.

As we walked through the rest of Montezuma, the cold-pressed coffee I was drinking was giving me a mild wave of euphoria. Perhaps high-end coffee is worth the price. Or maybe it's cut with cocaine.
The walk up the Montezuma River from its mouth on the Gulf of Nicoya wasn't as long or as arduous as I remembered it. Perhaps the river was running at less than the flow I remember, exposing more dry rock up the many rapids. The small pools dammed up with concrete and stone were all still there, and still drained by a chaotic jumble of plastic hoses carrying pressurized water to people downhill in the town. We found ourselves walking behind a line of other people, and (as is always the case with lines of people walking on a narrow path) it moved at the speed of the least-capable person in it. This became a problem when we got to a place where one had to maneuver along a rock face with the assistance of a knotted rope someone had installed. At around this point, Gretchen and I forded the river and found it fairly easy to walk on the boulders and cobbles of its southwest shore with nobody in front of us. On the way back, I described the impatience I had for the less agile hikers as making me feel like I had a "superpower."
There a fair number of people at the falls, including someone who had brought a sound system and was playing pleasantly atmospheric Latin pop music. Given all the people at the falls, there weren't all that many actually in the water. And there were no intrepid Ticos climbing high up on the rocks to make death-defying leaps. I immediately ate my little sandwich, and it was rather good despite the sweetness of the plantains used to make the "bread." Gretchen only took a few bites of hers before letting me have the rest; the sweetness was sort of a dealbreaker for her.
I mostly sat in the shade doing nothing while Gretchen swam around in the pool, climbing up on the lower rocks to do a few jumps that were about as daring as any being done by others. I was still feeling good from that cold-pressed coffee, augmented somewhat by the natural wonder of the falls. Evidently during periods of flooding, the force of the water falling from such a height has been enough to excavate a huge hole in the landscape, some of which is filled with the pool at its base.
Later Gretchen and I sat watching the teenagers and twenty somethings nearby as they preened and posed for photos taken with their phones. They affected such phony looks and stances that I would've found it embarrassing to do such a thing in public, but it's become accepted in youth culture. But seeing it play out among so many people all at once in such a beautiful setting, one that they were treating like a green screen, seemed like something out of an episode of Black Mirror.
After much delay, I myself waded out into the water among some fish that were as long as my forearm and even managed to swim across a narrow but impossibly-deep part to the exposed bedrock adjacent to the falls, and there I climbed up on a rock and watched things from there and basking in the tropical sun in a way I hadn't so far on this trip. Meanwhile Gretchen had struck up a conversation (in Spanish) with a young woman who had two adult dogs and two adorable little puppies. It turned out the woman runs a dog rescue and the puppies are up for adoption. None of the dogs really had much interest in the water and tended to complain whenever their human companions ventured out into it.
I didn't want to go back in the water, but it turned out that there was a trail along the shore I could take to get back to where Gretchen and our stuff were. It led past a couple fire pits (all of which were meticulously devoid of garbage in a way that would be unimaginable at such a fire pit in the United States. There was also a tenous stream of water coming down another incredibly high waterfall from a tiny tributary of the Montezuma River, and at the base of this was a pleasant little pool that looked to be partially dammed-up by humans. It also contained a crayfish trap (the kind made with two plastic bottles such that one funnels into the other in a way that would trap a surface-following creature).

Eventually Gretchen's long chat with the dog rescue lady ended with an exchange of phone numbers; the lady said Gretchen could chat with her if she wanted to to help with her Spanish.
After experiencing my superpower on the walk back down the River, Gretchen and I went into a restaurant in a hotel near its mouth. The restaurant used to feature Middle Eastern food, but now it only offers the kinds of foods that horrify vegans. So instead we just ordered drinks: something fruity for Gretchen and a cerveza Imperial for me. There were at least three dogs hanging out in the restaurant while we were there, one of which had been immortalized in a not-very-good painting set at the falls.
We cut through to the center of Montezuma via the beach and then went to our favorite restaurant, Sano Banana. All day since eating those little sandwiches, I'd been so excited about "patacones" (plantains mushed into tortilla-like shapes and fried) that I'd been singing a little song about them. So of course I ordered the patacones dish, which comes with small cups of guacamole, salsa, and refried black beans. Gretchen ordered a casado sin guacamole, and someone in the kitchen decided it should get a slab of real cheese instead. While we were eating, a couple magpie jays arrived high up in the trees overhead and began eating a fruit from one of the palms. They didn't even consider flying down and pestering us, something they have definitely done at other restaurants we've eaten at in Costa Rica.
For the final four nights of our stay in Montezuma, the plan is to stay in a nice hotel somewhere near the middle of the town. The original plan was to stay at Sano Banano (which also features a hotel), but, since they lack a pool, Gretchen decided to book a room at El Hotel Jardí. We went there on our walk out of town to clear up some confusion that Gretchen might've caused via their e-commerce site.
Once that was all straightened out, we crossed the street and began hitchhiking. The desk clerk at El Hotel Jardí was now out in front the hotel chatting with a friend and was probably wondering why someone with the means to book four nights in her relatively nice hotel was forced to hitchhike. The attempt at hitchhiking was an experiment to see if it was a viable way of getting up the escarpment. Unfortunately, we'd somehow picked a time of day when there were lots of vehicles coming down the escarpment but not all that many going up. After a few with enough room for us snubbed us even though they were going slowly, we decided to start walking, sticking out our thumbs whenever a suitable vehicle was going our way.
Fewer than ten passed us before someone pulled over. We hadn't even made it to the first switchback. The driver was a middle-aged British lady with two dogs in the back. Gretchen climbed into the front and I climbed into the back. The driver told me not to touch one of the dogs because she doesn't like strangers. But then that dog immediately climbed into my lap. The woman told us that she used to have to go back and forth to Montezuma and hitchhiked all the time, so she knew what we were going through. We had her let us off at the entrance to our road, since getting up the hill was all we wanted.
Not long after getting back to our casita, a large group of capuchin ("white-faced") monkeys came swinging through the trees right next to our porch, and I got plenty of great photographs.

A baby howler monkey with a little motion blur.

An adult howler monkey this morning. Click to enlarge.

A magpie jay has landed on Gretchen.

On her arm specifically.

The Montezuma Beach Market. Click to enlarge.

Those little patties with "bread" made of mashed plantains.

The falls on the Montezuma River. Click to enlarge.

Gretchen in mid-jump.

A would-be Kardashian preening for social media at the falls.

A map of Montezuma near the main desk at Sano Banano. Click to enlarge.

A capuchin monkey's mouth this evening.

Look at those teeth.

additional capuchin monkey pictures

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