Friday, June 29, 2012


"His answer trickled through my head like water through a sieve." - Lewis Carroll, Haddocks' Eyes

This is a photo someone took in Chile. Doesn't that look fun? I think so. Look at all that lake and sky water coming together in wetted bliss!

Last year in Costa Rica I returned home with lots of thoughts. Most of them were the serious type that leads to questioning everything you've come to know in your society, the hemisphere you live in, and its familiarity (or lack-thereof) to you. This year, there are still plenty of Big Questions driving bumper cars around upstairs, but one tiny thought has kept me buzzing almost all four weeks. I suppose I owe it to having near-full reserves of knowledge about Costa Rican life that allow me to steer thoughts elsewhere, but the element that I've pulled into focus here is just that: elemental. It's water. It's omnipresence has been bewildering, and my headspace has played host to the idea of agua much like a sloth's meticulous, steady appraisal of its current home branch.

Firstly, not all water is created equal. Home-water comes in waves of storms; here-water marches to time. Home-water bowls through; here-water comes to roost. Home-water goes pitter-patter, saying "hell-o, a little rain?"; here-water goes rrraaaaaaAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH on the tin roof. Home-trees bow and clap their hands; here-trees stare straight up at it. Home-water is a phenomenon of forecasts and radar; here-water is an all-orienting fact of life, like gravity. Is it raining? I will stay in today. Is it not raining? I will go out today. 

Here are some ways that Costa Ricans in San Ramón live with water:

Every corner needs a drain or four. There is always a downhill in San Ramón, and the water knows where to go: to the other water. In fact, the great conclusion that I think I've reached regarding water is very obvious but also very new to me. It is that water is always looking for the rest of the water. Where does it go from this gutter? To the pipes below, to the stream, to the river, to the ocean. It's terminus is always the rest of the water unless something intervenes in that flow. The entire city is built around being its usher, its butler.

Were you planning to build a university here? I'm sorry, but you'd better get your water canopy figured out. Also, you'll need megadeep drains along the side to escort the water from the premises.

You'll also need a giant channel once it finds its way out of the campus area. This will ensure that the water finds the other water outside of campus, so that together they can find the creek.

Is that a staircase? Ok. Just make sure to have running shoots for water along the side of it. This water needs shepherding in its quest.

At the top of a volcano? Yes, even here. This is where the journey begins. A journey of 9300 meters to sea-level where the rest of its family waits saltily.

Got babies in a stroller or a wheel chair? You must choose your route appropriately as only about 10% of the intersections offer a bridge like this. Just look at how much room they've left for water there! When I came to San Ramón last year, I thought that street repair meant simply putting asphalt on top of asphalt since their streets were at curb level and about 8 inches thick. This year I realized its all part of the water-steering process.

For your car to reach the garage you'd better design a way to get it over the waterway. We can't have lakes appearing where our houses were supposed to be--get the water out of here!

This is life in rainy season: 80% clear in the AM; 80% rain in the PM starting promptly at 1. Rain varies from light to crippling and back again over a dozen hours. This year we've had less rain than last.

I'm sorry, but there's just not going to be room for shoulders on the highways because we must, must plan for the daily water migration. You will have to find a driveway for your broken car.

Be extra careful parking on the street or you could find your car in a hellish gutter 12" or more below street level.

Sometimes it's terribly dangerous to not watch your feet. Here are three local words for rain, written in order of magnitude: temporalaguacero, and baldazo.

The world is disfigured by water's perpetual search for itself. San Ramón's infrastructure for dealing with The Wetness has given pause to many innocuous walks home, and for this small thought I am grateful.

Tomorrow we leave San Ramón for five days in the Caribbean. Water is sure to make an appearance. I will attend to my friendships in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí where our service project took place last year and then catch up with the rest of the crew in the other Puerto Viejo (en Limón) before my adventures turn further south to Panamá.


David Chambers said...

Extremely interesting thoughts. This is something most take for granted or don't even notice. We hide stuff more in this country.

Stormfey said...

Very enlightening, elemental article. Are you a water sign, by chance...?