Tick, tick, ... it's that time again in Costa Rica

We have observed that in Costa Rica soon after a summer rain or at the beginning of the Emerald season that the local tick population exhibits a marked rise of activity. This year seems no exception. Whenever there is a rain day in summer, we are sure to find more ticks on the dogs. 


The ones pictured above I recently extracted from our Border Collie, Buster. They're enjoying the Big Sleep in a bit of naptha (lighter fluid).

Though it may be old hat to folks who have pets and live here or another area of the world where ticks are common, I think it's worth repeating: Ticks carry diseases, so it's important to check your animals regularly and use preventatives and repellents. It is not uncommon here for pets to contract something lethal from ticks, such as erlichia.  Tick inspection is not an easy job for dogs with thick coats like Buster, but we can usually find them by feel. It's important to check less obvious places such as the ears, between the toes and the tail and anal area.

There really is only one good way to remove them, especially if they've been in long enough to embed their mouth parts into the skin. That is, to use some twisting device, such as pictured below. There are some of these that are more like tweezers that will work in really tight places (one time we had to extract one from our puppy's nostril!). Always twist counter-clockwise.


You can pull them out with regular tweezers or your fingernails, but you risk leaving mouth parts embedded in the skin, which can infect the animal. If you pull on a tick, you can easily put pressure on its abdomen, which risks injecting the pet with even more disease-carrying organisms the tick is carrying.

All the hearsay remedies for tick extraction (covering with oil, kerosene, burning, etc.) are not always effective and at any rate take a long time during which you could have just taken the beastie out mechanically.

We also apply Revolution monthly on our pets and during bad tick periods we spray their coats with a dilution of Bañol (Amitraz) about twice a week. This repels as well as knocks off any ticks that are already on.


So, keep those pets healthy! Give them a check-over today.     - Ciao cacao

La Georgina and the Hummingbirds at 10,000 feet in Costa Rica

road sign
Villa Mills. Blink and you'll miss it. 

It is not much more than a broad spot in the road. Harder to miss, just beyond the blue sign, is a crisp-looking red and white restaurant, which may have several cars and a bus parked in front depending on the time of day. That's La Georgina, founded in 1947, just a year before the 44-day Costa Rican civil war that sparked the abolition of their army and instigated several social reforms that carry on today. Must've been interesting times for this spot, since a lot of the fighting occurred up here on Cerro de La Muerte.

La Georgina restaurant
 I have doubts whether this place was ever in any danger of being obliterated by that war, but in any case we're certainly glad that it's still in operation. It's a spacious place and has restrooms built for no-waiting. The food is the usual Tico buffet, not bad, but not terribly creative either. The main attraction for us is in the back.  [video below the fold]


Tamara Applies Her Artistic Talents to Yet Another Medium - Wood Carving

We have four eucalypto posts on the outside of our home here in Costa Rica. Last year, we enlisted the help of a local wood carver who does astounding work to carve one of them. It took him two long days to finish the carving and a couple of days for us to sand and finish it. This year, we wanted to continue with the 3 posts on the back patio, but he was unavailable due to long-term health issues.

Tamara trying to wood carve with a Dremel tool
Suited up for battle
So, as she has done before, Tamara took up the challenge to learn a new art medium and carved them herself.

Having never carved any wood before in her life. 

Unfortunately, all she had at hand were some of those dollar store, cheap Chinese carving tools, which would never be up to the task even if you could adequately sharpen them. They stayed sharp about as long as it takes the driver behind you to honk when the light turns green.

I offered her my Dremel tool, however, and we bought some good quality bits downtown. She was off to the races! It was dusty, tedious work though and progress was excruciatingly slow.

Costa Rica's Freelance Parking Attendants - Las Vigías


One of the more subtle cultural aspects of living in Costa Rica is the Vigía, or the "lookout". In the U.S., if we had them, we'd probably call them freelance parking attendants. Initially, I found these guys - haven't seen a female vigía yet - a bit annoying. "Do I really need someone to help me park, put a piece of cardboard on my window, and then hit me up for a tip?", I thought.

It didn't take long, however, for me to come to appreciate their services. Parking spaces in town are scarce, tiny and awkwardly positioned. It's a real time saver to have someone wave you into an empty space, stop traffic when you're backing out, and watch your car while you're shopping. All for a mere 100 colones (20 cents). 

Each vigía has his own territory, which usually consists of a single city block. They are there typically 10 to 12 hours a day. Pictured above is our favorite vigía, Luis, who works the block orthogonal to the street on which Sean's old school is located. Luis has a quick and easy smile and loves to joke around. My sister  introduced him to the fist bump one day, so we have added that to our greeting ritual. I am happy to hand this guy his tip, and he has no problem if I'm out of change some days ... mañana I'll get it to him.

Luis has a very good street to work as you can see. It is always filled with cars. This abnormally wide street is right next to the core downtown not-free parking zone, so it's a popular location. 

Not all vigías are so diligent and friendly as Luis. On the street in front of San Isidroś farmer's market, there was a change of vigías about a year ago. The new guy, how shall I put it, ... sucks. He is not helpful, but he is right there in your face with his hand out as soon as he sees you heading to your car to leave. I stopped  parking on that street hoping to starve him out. He eventually disappeared, thank goodness. 

There is one other vigía we regularly see on a busy cross-street in the middle of a busy commercial area. He has his work cut out for him. The street is narrow and parking requires some deft handling of the car. He will guide you into your spot, but more importantly he stops traffic when you are trying to thread the needle backing out. 

The watchman aspect is not so vital down here where street crime is rare, but I suppose in a place like San José that aspect could be important. I'd think, however, that in SJ you would have to wonder if you needed a vigía for the vigía, etc. Up in SJ I've had obviously drug-crazed kids try to panhandle 100 colones off me as I headed back to my car. They weren't there when I parked, and had done absolutely nada with regards to watching over my car. At least they didn't break into it, so perhaps I should give them a tip for that!

Hawk at 12 O'Clock! The Pechinegro Migration in Costa Rica Arrives Again

Our immediate area is a way station every year at this time for the migration of the Pechinegro hawks (aka Black-Chested Hawk). This annual migration always occurs mid-March and this day in 2015 is the 5th year in a row we've spotted them. 

About 300 large hawks circling the rocks
2015 First Arrival of the Black-Chested Hawks

Many of our neighbors know about this annual rite, but they failed to tell us when we purchased our property back in 2007. What a great bonus is this spectacle! I'm not sure how we missed them in 2009 and 2010, but each year we keep our eyes out for them starting about May 10th. 

Not every year is as spectacular as the first year we saw them. Back then, it seemed they all came as one huge flock, thousands of birds. They perched in the trees on our farm and neighboring farms. Subsequent years, they have come in several smaller flocks, only a few hundred at a time. Below is the description of the 2011 migration:

We were treated to one of Nature's memorable spectacles yesterday soon after we returned home about 4 PM. We noticed a few more birds than usual flying overhead. At first, we thought they were grey vultures, which are common here. Then we noticed a few more and then a lot more circling our little valley cul-de-sac. Within 15 minutes, there were, by my estimate, a minimum of 500 to a 1000 birds in the air. 

Fraction of 2011 huge flock of Pechinegro Costa Rica
A Fraction of the 2011 Flock

I don't have a suitable wide-angle lens, so the birds you see in the 2011 photograph are just a fraction of the entire group. I didn't know what they were at first, but some flew close enough that I could see that they were definitely not vultures. It took us a while to identify them, partly because there is a lot of variation among individuals. Not all of them actually have black chests for instance.

I waited patiently with binoculars for single birds to sweep by with my Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica close by so that I could compare them to the plates. Clearly they were hawks, but which species?

At last my patience paid off. A lobe of the swirling, drifting mass of birds wandered over our house, and I got a detailed look at them. Gavilán Pechinegro, aka Black-chested Hawk, aka Barred Hawk, aka Prince Hawk. These are not small birds. They measure 24 inches head to tail, and weigh about a kilo each. My cat better not mess with them!

The Biennial Male Bonding Ritual around the Bulldozer in Costa Rica

This morning, I slept in a bit until nearly 7. Tamara reminded me that the tractor was coming and I needed to meet the driver and neighbors at 7 al punto. So, I hurriedly pulled on some work clothes, grabbed a reheated cup of coffee and shuffled out the door down to the main creeks below the finca. They'd started without me of course.

Bulldozer starting work early morning
Summer Road Refresh Begins
Not that they needed my advice. My main job is to help cut out side brush, move water lines and participate in the social male bonding ritual of standing around watching the tractor operator perform his magic. No problem. It's great work if you can get it, especially on a nice cool summer morning such as we had today.

We go through this exercise about every 2 or 3 years. It works like this:

The Utterly Cute and Deliciously Edible Tepezcuintle

One of our Tico neighbors found this baby animal in the woods, cowering in a hollow log. It appeared to him that it had been abandoned by the mother, so he took pity on it and brought it home to care for it. It wasn't much bigger than a large kitten then. It took to bottle feeding of raw goat's milk right away. It's just about big enough now to release back to the wild.

A young tepezcuintle or lowland paca
Cute and possibly delicious, but who could render it lifeless? No me.

It is called a tepezcuintle in this part of Costa Rica, a piscuintle up north and has a multitude of other names throughout México and Central America. The common name in English is the lowland paca. They can grow up to 26 lbs in weight and produce two litters a year, although I'm not sure "litter" is appropriate since they only give birth to one or two progeny each time.

The Final Fun Steps to the First Taste of Our Own Homegrown Costa Rica Coffee

When we last left our nascent organic coffee small-time sodbusters, we had picked our first real harvest of beans from the 3rd year plot of about 200 plants, of which about 20% are doing really well and the others so-so. This is the follow-up to the first round of post-processing after removing the surrounding cherry, fermenting off the slimy second layer and letting the beans have a good sunbath until dry.

Our cleaning lady, Ligia, had all sorts of ideas for us about different methods of initial processing and volunteered her food mill for removing the final hard shell around the beans. She processes about 5 cajuelas of her own coffee each year (over 100 lbs of raw cherries), so she knows of what she speaks.

Our Tica cleaning lady helping mill our coffee
Ligia at the food mill


So, after one morning's cleaning, she and Tamara took our small sack of dried beans down to her house to remove the outer shells.

The 7 Harbingers of Summer in the Southern Costa Rica Mountains

Whenever I mention that "summer" is coming to Costa Rica to non-expat friends, they often look puzzled. They are thinking that we share the same summer season with North America since we are above the equator, and technically they are right. However, the tropical Trade Winds pick up this time of year and they are what divide our seasons into wet and dry.

Our summer in this part of Costa Rica runs from mid-December until the middle of April when the trades begin to weaken again. Northern Pacific provinces have longer summers and the Caribbean's seasonal changes are less distinct, but roughly reversed from ours.

Right now, it's a densely overcast, drizzly day with intermittent showers, so you'd never guess that summer is just around the corner (we hope). But, there are plenty of other signs that say, yes, the arrival of La Zona Sur's summer is imminent.

Coffee Season

Ripening Costa Rica coffee
Coffee cherries ready to pick


Coffee up here in the mountains is harvested later than in the lowlands and right now we are in the thick of the harvest. That means that around the corner of any country road you are liable to have delays due to farmers' trucks loading or unloading their bursting sacks of red coffee cherries. The crop this year is a bumper and the price is high too, so most of them are smiling big.

truck off loading coffee blocking the road
Our neighbor unloading at the recibidora
 We love coffee season, not only because it signifies summer's arrival, but because the neighborhood comes alive with the activities of the harvest and there are new arrivals, the pickers, who add a bit more color to our already colorful world. Since the neighbors are out and about more, it's also a great time to stop and chat.



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