It’s pretty clear that I am bullish on living overseas, at least part-time. For those with the intercultural or travel bug, interacting with the local people of a country is one of the most satisfying aspects of being overseas. When you live in a country for an extended period of time, you get to know local people more intimately, you get a clearer picture of daily life, and you begin to understand the thinking and perspectives of the culture.
Some of our most rewarding experiences with people in Costa Rica have been serendipitous. They just happened with no planning. Such a thing happened earlier this month when we were staying in a small hamlet called Verbena Norte. This community is on the outskirts (meaning “up the steep mountainside”) of Turrialba, Costa Rica, a city of about 35,000 in the central part of the country. The city sits in a beautiful valley, and the views from Verbena Norte are absolutely stunning. The most verdant shades of green just are a buffet of visual delights. We always love going there.
In fact, years ago, we owned a small cabin on this mountainside in Verbena Norte. But when we returned to the US in 2003, we sold it. Now, on this particular visit, we were just walking distance from our old property, so we decided to walk there and see it.
On our way down the winding road, we noticed an older man with a walking stick. He would be described here as a “campesino,” a simple, rural man who lives close to the land and probably works in some sort of agricultural work. It is quite common to see such men, walking tall, with the assurance of a lifetime of experiences and the security of the good life that Costa Rica offers. Often, we will greet these men with a “Buenos Dias.”
But on this day, this particular man beat us to it. He greeted us, and to our surprise, he did so in English! He asked us about ourselves from across the street, so we crossed over, and continued to converse with him. He had the most perfect teeth of anyone I have ever seen. He also had a sparkle in his eyes that looked a lot younger than the leathery skin and baggy coat and pants made him look.
He introduced himself as Professor Luis J. Poveda Alvarez. He is a botanist and professor in the Environmental Science department at the National University (Universidad Nacional) of Costa Rica. His official title is Chief Curator and Academic of the Juvenal Herbarium. He has a long and respected career not only teaching, but researching, especially in the area of medicinal plants. He shared with great pride that some of his research has helped cancer patients treat and survive. He has contributed to many cancer projects. His assignment with the University now is in Turrialba, where he walks the countryside in search of particular plants which have proven helpful in treating cancer and other diseases.
This was fascinating. We were enthralled as we listened to his stories.
And then the sparkle in his eyes took on a renewed glow, and he said, “And I am a poet. Let me read you one of my recent poems.” He dug into his bag and pulled out a common notebook, and started thumbing through it. Brenda and I looked at one another with smiles of anticipation.
He began reading, and while Spanish poetry is not easy for us to understand, we thoroughly did understand a lot of it. We also enjoyed the cadence, the beautiful sound of the language, and most of all, his thorough enjoyment of sharing his creative work.
Click here to hear Professor Poveda read some of his poetry.
We gushed over his poetry, and we thanked him profusely for sharing so much of his life and story with us. He bade us an “Adios,” and he started walking up the road again, as we continued walking down.
Sometimes you just have such unusual and memorable experiences when you allow time for life to give its best to you.
The people of Costa Rica – its best resource, its most precious beauty, and its most creative expression.
Thank you, Professor Luis Poveda. May our paths cross again on a mountainside. When they do, we will want to hear your latest poem.
Until next time . . . .
Paul, A Part-Time Expat
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