San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arenal Report

Chimurria resident Mindy Feldman has kept the educational embers glowing in that tiny hillside village during the December- January school break, challenging the kids with an “English Camp.” Although Mindy claims identity as a mother and nurse, not a teacher, she has been successful in attracting about 10 elementary children to the classes.

Three of them have met her challenge to attend at least 10 classes, earning book-bag prizes. After class, the kids get a bit of physical education, jumping rope while counting in English. The top mark now in this jump-rope campeonato is 228 correctly counted jumps in a row.

Lake Arenal residents heading from their temperate highlands to the Central Valley via the Tilarán-San José bus now have to allow an extra 15 minutes for the trip as a result of the corporate guys taking over the snack trade from a hardworking person. About an hour and a half after leaving Tilarán, the buses now stop at La Casa de Doña Lela, allowing passengers to dismount to feed and relieve themselves. Doña Lela presents a large new complex of aggressive rusticity. There’s a cafeteria where the passengers can get a variety of hot snacks, including pizza. There’s also a very large open-air restaurant for the more leisurely traveler. Behind the restaurant are six or seven tiny rental cabins, each barely bigger than the sturdy steel jail that gives barren housing to three brilliant macaws, strangely placed where few will see them.

Now that passengers are treated to tiled bathrooms and pizza at Doña Lela’s, the drivers no longer pick up the young entrepreneur who used to struggle aboard with his three containers, including a cooler full of soft drinks and a shopping bag bristling with small bags of chips. This neatly groomed, large fellow would get on north of the Puntarenas junction, give the driver his complimentary soft drink and snack, and then work his way up and down the aisle, often through standing passengers, who sometimes helped him distribute the fully sugared sodas and ersatz fruit juices. The vendor would get off at Esparza, usually, where you’d find him getting on as you traveled in the opposite direction. Too bad. The bus trip is now longer and the young entrepreneur has lost that livelihood.

–Alex Murray

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