Tuesday, August 27, 2013

El barrio de los acotaos

Bubbly one of my cats went missing about a week ago.

He does tend to wander off a bit, but is a very friendly cat and loves everyone so I wasn't too concerned, but as the days passed and no sign I asked Danilo and Hector to investigate. Later that day we sat down for lunch and I asked if they had any news.
"Yes," said Hector, "He is in Barrio de los Acotaos."
A barrio is a neighbourhood and most towns have several, with names like Barrio Lindo (Pretty neighbourhood), Barrio Duarte - named after one of the founding fathers and they can also have what are to us strange names such as Barrio los Chicharrones which is Pork Scratchings neighbourhood.
I am well used to odd place names, so I said without really thinking what it meant,
"Where is Barrio de los Acotaos?"
"Over there," said Hector, waving his arm in the general direction of the wood.
"Well, he will be home soon," I said confidently.
"Err, I don't think so," interrupted Danilo. "No one returns from Barrio del los Acotaos".
"Why on earth not?" I asked. "Well, I will just go and get him then. Now where exactly is it?"

There was silence, and then I thought about the name. Acotao was probably really acostado which means sleeping, laying down - policia acostado are sleeping policemen in the road or speed bumps.

"Bubbly is dead." announced Danilo. "He was playing with some baby chicks in the next campo to us and the owner was not happy about it, so he shot him with a shotgun."

Rest in Peace, Bubbly, in the Barrio de los Acotaos

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The hunt for water

I mentioned that we were having a drought. This is supposed to be the rainy season, and although it rained every afternoon in May, since then we have had not one drop. It often clouds over in the afternoon, we even have thunder and lightning, but no rain. Everything looks brown, the plants have died and the newly planted fruit trees are dying. Neighbours are looking to sell their cows and goats as there is no grass for them to eat and the lack of rain is becoming a serious problem.

We have water which comes by pipeline into a large cistern supposedly once a fortnight but it is always late, sometimes only coming once a month, and when the cistern is empty we need to buy water from a truck, which is expensive. There is usually enough for household needs but not enough to water the garden. So I decided that we have to dig a well in the garden somewhere and use that for watering. There are however two problems. Firstly we live at 1500 feet, and I am reliably informed by the locals that the closest water is 800 feet down, although no idea how they know that, and secondly I have no idea where to put the well, as no idea where the water is likely to be.

I remembered, however, that in England people used to dowse for water.

From what I could remember you take a forked stick, hold it out in front of you and it jiggles up and down where there is water. I was sure the local campo folk would know about this, but they all looked at me as if I was mad. Not to be thwarted, I asked Hector to go and cut me a stick, and my English friends told me it should be hazel or willow.

Not a hazel or willow tree in sight and Hector seemed somewhat reluctant to cut any sort of stick. It appeared that he was concerned that I might actually find water and ask him to dig a well – and he had no intention of digging down 800 feet.

In the end he cut a stick – and I held it over the water cistern. Nothing, nada, zip. That called for a change of plan, so, having taken more advice, I eventually found two wire coat hangers, cut them in half and tried with them. Success! When I walked over the cistern the two wires crossed. Mr non believer Hector decided to try too and walked slowly to the water cistern, through the gymnasium.

Bingo, it worked for him too. The wires crossed even though he tried his hardest to hold them straight.

Today, Chivirico arrived with his aunt and she had a go over the water cistern watched by unbelieving neighbour

It worked once again, so Chivirico had a go too and it worked for him.

So Chivirico and I set off for the bottom of the garden to hunt for water. He walked slowly northwards chanting “Agua Agua donde tu estas (actually said donde tu ta)” as we had been instructed to by Nicola from Devon who knows all about water divining. It means "Water water where are you?" Nothing at all, but he kept concentrating.

but suddenly it worked – and worked while he was walking along  for about 30 feet.

Danilo came to check, and has agreed to start digging as he has decided it is an underground river, and we will go into the business of selling water. Hector was not so impressed and has announced that he is going on holiday for a week!

Talking of Hector, he has just decided that he is an alternative medicine specialist and has become addicted to making juice. His juices are taking over the fridge, but all have to have Carnation milk and oats in them.

We have passion fruit, and beetroot with carrots. I asked him to try and do some without Carnation, as if he was a real doctor he would realize that the natural fruit and vegetables would do more good without added sugar. To test him on his medical ability I asked him how many kidneys we had – one he replied. Lungs? One as well. Having shown him a picture of the anatomy of the human body, he agreed to try juice without Carnation, so we now have lime juice and beetroot with mango and celery. Tomorrow he wants to make melon and pineapple together – with Carnation and oats - before leaving to save having to dig the well.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A day at the river and the reappearing cat

On Sunday off we went for a day at the river with Chivirico’s family and my stepsons. We were told to meet them at 8 am so it was an early start. The first place we stopped was the puncture repair shop, as usually happens when we go anywhere, we started off with a puncture.

We met everyone, around 18 people, jammed in the back of an open truck and on a couple of motorbikes and off we set in convoy. After about 40 minutes, in the middle of nowhere, we stopped to pick up Chivirico’s grandfather, the plantain bananas and a sack of dead pig.

Off we set again, and the roads became worse and worse as we headed deeper into the countryside which was full of banana plantations, but everything was very dry, and Chivirico's grandfather explained to me that there was a terrible drought at the moment and the farmers were suffering. Instead of the countryside looking green, it was obvious how parched it was.

Eventually, after a couple of hours, we arrived at a glorious river, which reminded me of England and everyone set to work.

Making the fire, peeling bananas, cooking pig.

The meal was lovely, and there was plenty to go round as you can see!

 The children including Chivirico loved it.

This was followed by everyone going for a swim in the river. I couldn't really understand the fascination with swimming in the river, until I remembered that I was the only one there with a shower in my house. Everyone else washes outside with buckets of water.

We said goodbye to Chivirico who was to start school the next day and eventually arrived home. I decided to check on a map to see where we had been. The river was actually about 20 minutes from our house. We had driven in one enormous circle!

The following morning, I got up as usual, let the dogs out, sat down to start work for the day at my computer and suddenly heard this dreadful howling and screaming. On investigation I discovered the little kitten who the mother took away a month ago, hiding behind the freezer. She had obviously decided to bring him back home during the night. I couldn't get near to him as he was totally wild. In the end, with the help of an oven glove he was deposited in the washing machine.

However, it was obvious he couldn't stay there long term, even though his mother was keeping guard, his sister, Mariposa wanted to murder him.

So Hector took him round to the neighbour who wanted to keep him, in a cat basket. I have been to check on him and he is still in the cat basket as she is afraid he will run off!  

And finally, just thought you might like to see what we have to look at when we are eating dinner.

Silly Boy the mastiff might be blind but his sense of smell and hearing are excellent, so he appears when dinner is ready. And now he is always joined by Lobo, the husky. They stand at the gate waiting for scraps when we have finished eating.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pizzas and punctures

Another busy week last week, and more gallivanting around the country for me. I went to Cabarete, on the north coast for 3 days for a staff meeting with a group of us who all work for the same British company here. The apartments had a stunning view

And the sun rises were beautiful.

Did lots of work, ate lots of delicious food and came home, picking Chivirico up on the way.
He decided he wanted to make pizza, as there is nowhere to buy it ready made here.
First stage was to make the dough – more on him than in the bowl though.

Then we had to put it somewhere warm to rise, so off it went into the front seat of my jeep. The jeep is only useful for proving pizza dough at the moment as it has another puncture.

As Chivirico told me, it punctured itself. All I can say is that it did a pretty good job of it.

The dough doubled in size which Chvirico found amazing.

Then I explained how to make it big and round and flat by throwing it around. That didn't work at all!

Made the tomato sauce, covered the pizzas with ham,cheese and salami then  into the oven.
We made two, one for us and one for the neighbours. It was delicious.

This is the time of year for flame trees to flower. This one is at the end of the track which leads to our house.

Known as flamboyant, or framboyan here, the real name is Royal Poinciana I think. They are usually red, but for the first time I have seen yellow ones here as well.

Absolutely gorgeous, and we have planted them all around the finca, so it should look stupendous in 20 years time.

And on a final note, Molly C wrote on the last post that she had the same cauliflower issues as me. Leaves for months and no middle. But she said once the white flower began, it grew really quickly. Molly, the same thing is happening here!

Oh and I nearly forgot the best thing that happened this week. I received my first royalties for the book, which are for March this year, the first month it was out. It sold 226 copies, so I am really pleased. I just hope I can keep it up. "What about your saucepans?" is still getting great reviews, up to 60 five star ones now.  For those of you who haven't read it, you can buy it from Amazon.com/.co.uk or .ca and it is available in paperback or kindle version. If you want to check it out first, you can read previews here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chivirico goes to Jarabacoa

Last weekend there was great excitement as we went on holiday for the first time in years. Me, Danilo and Chivirico. We went to Jarabacoa to stay in a villa at Rancho Las Guasaras, which had been rented by a friend of mine from the US who was staying there with her family and friends.

The villa was lovely, not sure about the deer though – Chivirico decided it was one of Santa Claus’ who fell into the fireplace and died.

He had a brilliant time, cooking

Dressing in his new frog towel and swim shorts

In the pool where he learned to swim

Helping people to climb over rocks in the river

On his new scooter

Teaching the others to play dominoes - he won

On the Sunday night we went to the Hamaca de Dios (God’s Hammock) development, to their restaurant way up above Jarabacoa called the Aroma de la Montaña.

The views were simply spectacular.

I would thoroughly recommend this restaurant, not just for the food, service and the views, but because it was much more than simply going out for a meal. It was the whole ambiance and experience. We were there for 4 hours – eating upstairs in the revolving restaurant, out chatting on the upstairs patio and then downstairs to the outside deck to watch the sunset and the lights twinkling down below as it got dark. No one tries to push you out as someone else wants your table, no hovering waiters when you don’t want them, just an overall lovely laid back and very enjoyable experience.

It was sad to leave Jarabacoa and get back to normal life, but there have been some changes in the countryside. Firstly the gym has a new machine – again. I thought you were probably fed up of muscular men so here is Belinda the Great Dane checking it out. The only things lacking now are a running machine and a step machine - and I am sure they will turn up sooner or later.

Secondly, I couldn’t believe it, at last my cauliflower has the white bit in the middle. It has taken 7 months and  is only as big as my thumb at the moment, but I can feel cauliflower cheese coming on before Christmas.

So, many thanks to Tracy for inviting us to Jarabacoa and making a little barrio boy very happy

He will certainly remember his first holiday in his dreams and for the rest of his life.