In the first week of my Costa Rican writing sabbatical, Virginia (pronounced Veer-HEEN-ia) came unannounced one afternoon, setting off the barking dogs and causing me, in my half-asleep pensiveness, to levitate off my writing sofa. Virginia is one of Jan Hart’s many sweet Tico neighbors here in the hills above San Isidro de El General in Costa Rica. Jan has been living here among the locals for about 11 years, having had to abandon her ranchito in New Mexico after a tragic medical bankruptcy.
The culture among the Ticos is gentle, caring, kind and simple, where everyone looks out for everyone else, including any gringos who have accepted this peaceful and colorful life. When Jan had to be admitted into the hospital suddenly last week, the entire neighborhood turned out to help and support her with transportation, food, grocery shopping, dog feeding, house cleaning, and trips to the pharmacy. This is the way of the Ticos.
Fortunately for me, because of Jan’s relationships within the community, her visitors (like me!) receive the same warm hospitality, with hugs, rapid-fire chatter in Spanish and lots of smiles.
I came to Jan’s place for a month of freedom from distractions and responsibilities (in other words, to be irresponsible!) to write the great American memoir, or whatever might blossom from the tip of my pencil. It’s the rainy season here — a description that frightens tourists away even though flights are ridiculously cheap this time of year. Not much to do but read, write and listen to the rain, sometimes a soft drizzle, sometimes pounding like Latin drumbeats. The air is soft and moist, cool and fresh — and the breezes waft exotic floral scents to calm and intoxicate.
But I digress. Again. Today was the first day here that I’ve been able to focus on writing. Unfortunately, with all this intoxication drifting up my nose, it’s difficult to stay awake and focused.
Back to Virginia, this tiny Tico local, probably 80 years old, hair still black, face creased into a permanent grin. She arrived at our gate this late morning after a steep uphill walk carrying a heavy pot, still steaming hot from her wood stove, full of a Costa Rican delicacy called atole, sometimes made with corn, sometimes with rice. It takes many days to prepare and is only served on very special occasions. Similar to custard, it has a creamy, delicate sweetness, and is utterly delicious.
If you’re curious about how to make it, there’s are wonderful videos on YouTube. Hint: Traditional recipes start with “Set aside several days, then collect wood for the fire, grind the corn or rice…” There is no greater gift of love, respect, and generosity than this traditional Costa Rican treat. Pura Vida.