Not that it matters, but the following story could be true
They rode into town one dusty December day, fresh from the High Plains of western Colorado.
Blaine was riding shotgun. Blake covered our flanks from the backseat of The Beast, a 4×4 Toyota Landcruiser. Between them they carried a fistful of dollars, and were giddy-up rough and ready to corral a bodacious bonanza of celestial treasure from somebody’s Back Forty.
By being late to a stone-mad round-up, beginning with a meteorite fall seven months before, they avoided a cosmic collision between black hats and good guys.
During the last days of April, 2019, I enjoyed a brief moment as the first extranero at the fall site of a then un-classified meteorite (see https://www.meteorite-times.com/fall-of-aguas-zarcas-cm2). After filling my saddle bags with fabulously fresh specimens destined to become Aguas Zarcas CM2, I mosied on back to my homestead, a lofty bivouac high up the Pacific-coast mountains of Costa Rica.
I was privileged to now hold both CR meteorite falls, Aguas Zarcas and Heredia H5 (1857).
During the following months, Blaine and I planned his visit to the strewn field, to be accompanied by his twin brother Blake.
Blaine hoped to stock up on specimens for his later-days’ inventory.
We expected that after the gold rush of May and June, when meteorite-hunting entrepreneurs Michael Farmer, Robert Ward, Achim Karl, Dimi Sadilenko and Roberto Vargas were among those who had efficiently hoovered up every available specimen, he might purchase recently recovered material.
Blaine had sourced specimens during the interim, and from his workshop in Delta, CO, had gently removed the first traces of rain-induced oxidation with a blast of high-pressure baking soda. This procedure was noted in his sales listings.
Regarding his belated arrival, he explained, “It’s best to be first, but it’s OK to be last, when there are no more buyers. Being close to the Holidays, whatever meteorites are in the hands of finders might be liquidated to buy Christmas presents.”
The brothers had flown in from Grand Junction on November 30, 2019. I picked them up at their hotel the next day, and we drove up and over the Continental Divide to my home, to organize our visit to the northern Caribbean slopes of Costa Rica.
Blaine and I hiked that afternoon, passing through the postcard-perfect pueblo of Salitrillos. The only shop keeper, a frugal man who had earned his years, watched the world’s last 13” black-and white TV. A spontaneous guitar performance was encountered outside his door.
Then down, down, down we walked between pasture and uplifted granite cliffs, that dropped a waterfall that runs across the trail.
The Puriscal area is not even mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide, and tourists haven’t yet selfied this part of Costa Rica. I’m usually alone when walking through mountain forests, filling now with rebounding animal populations due to the expensive government fines for possession of wildlife ‘pets’. Today we saw macaws fly by in sentimental pairs, screaming an announcement of their regal presence. Morpho butterflies passed us on the trail, wings flashing neon blue, creating an audible sound.
I hadn’t seen Blaine for two years and was glad for this auspicious start. He is an even-tempered companion who never tires, and always appreciates the view.
We came upon a fatality, flattened on the road.
Readers of July’s Met Times’, “The Fall of Agua Zarcas”, have become familiar with this serpent.
The viper’s triangular head, and brown-and-tan diamond arrangement of its now, one-dimensional linear body, didn’t require a herpetologist for an ID.
It was a terciopelo. In other countries its called a fer-de-lance. Because they are so common here, anti-venom is available and very few people die from bites, although missing fingers and toes are often the price of tomorrow.
Research identifies cow pastures and mono-culture coffee farming as factors responsible for the snakes abundant presence. A regional science publication claims that 70-80% of terciopelo broods, numbering up to ninety, survive to adulthood in this area, versus 2% in balanced nature environments. Only when the sharp knives of the campesino’s come out, are their numbers diminished.
Back home, we found Blake hooking up an antique camcorder to the flat screen. He was about to verify his scotch-tape repair of a torn 8mm recording of our 1999 expedition to Bolivia.
Blake is a wizard, a true star with utilizing, repairing or inventing electrical devices.
This was demonstrated to me when he purchased an “interesting-looking transistor radio” at the Witch’s Market in La Paz, just to take it apart to see how it worked.
Thanks to his cost-efficient repair, the tape was no longer an interrupted collection of lost memories. We briefly watched wandering llamas (pronounced ja-mas) bleeting innocently, while munching the scrubby Altiplano, then switched over to the satellite dish for the day’s NFL action.
Broncos v Whoever delighted the local fans, especially as the home team won a rare victory.
Just Dinner and a Movie
A few years ago, I offered my hospitality through a B&B called La Quintana de Costa Rica, providing guests with healthy, no-star Michelin meals.
Tonight’s dinner began with a Chinese salad of cuke fingers, unpeeled but seedless, topped with diced, Peruvian Aji pepper and julianned ginger, coated in a warm slurry of soy sauce and sesame oil, decorated with cilantro leaves and small black seeds.
A Sichuan-style sweet-and-sour sauce (with black-vinegar) coated the chicken, portabella mushroom and broccoli entree, stirring Blake to graciously exaggerate, “This is the best food I have ever eaten.”
After stretching our legs on the dirt road outside the wall that protects me from opportunistic bandits and second-chance ex-girlfriends, we settled in to watch a NOVA/WGBH special on Kilimanjaro.
We three love mountains. We became wine-sipping, armchair climbers to the glacier-rimmed crater of this sleeping volcano.
Comrades in crampons, we share high-mountain experience (ascents over 6,000m/20,000′). We’ve been roped together in dangerous places, in act of ultimate trust, bearing ice axes to self-arrest and break the fall of anyone slipping into a hidden crevasse.
“It’s a walk-up” Blaine blandly declared of Kilimanjaro, noting how wide and worn the trails had become from the 30,000 adventurers, that every year pay $2,000 – $4,000 to file up the hill.
Wiki confirms Blaine’s qualified verdict, “Although Mount Kilimanjaro is known as a “walk-up” mountain, you should not underestimate it risks. The overall statistics show that less than half of all climbers reach the summit.”
I tip my hat to the brothers Reed, who summited Volcan Sajama in 1999. At 6,549m/21,486′, it’s Bolivia’s highest mountain, and the ninth highest volcano in world.
Animal habits and Buttermilk biscuits
My modest home has only one bedroom, because there is only one of me, so my guests would be camping on the ceramic-tiled living room floor. With plush air-mattresses, warm Mexican blankets and extra pillows, it was clearly more comfortable than sleeping on glacial ice.
But arguably less safe.
Living adjacent to Costa Rica’s Carrara National Park gives rise to confrontations with wildlife featured on Animal Planet.
I warned the brothers about walking to the bathroom barefoot in the night, when the scorpions come out. “Wear shoes, and if you step on one, step hard until you hear a crack.”
I didn’t mention my other guest-intruders, the Red Tarantulas, because they tend to run and hide. At least until they lose their fear after being ignored, whereas the make themselves at home, especially fond of the shower.
Though glad for their emphasis on personal hygiene, there they become closely acquainted with the bottom of the shampoo bottle.
My most valuable meteorite specimens are kept in a bank safe box in Florida. I visit them when I’m in the US, tell them I love them, and lock ’em up again. Here their health would be at risk from the year-round dampness that makes Costa Rica seem like a giant humidor. However, chondrites in Riker Mounts do well if triple layered against the climate. Sliced Irons are sealed in baggies, coated in REM oil, and kept in ammo boxes.
When Blaine and wife Linda last visited me, he and I went through my assorted wonders, and he commented on features I might have missed, me being wary of falsely claiming ‘orientation’ or ‘Roll-over lips’.
I enjoy reviewing Blaine’s regular sales offerings, which sometimes include something that ignites a fire within me.
The next day, after a breakfast of made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, I was ready to see what Blaine had brought me, three meteorites I’d asked to be set aside since his last visit. I would be trading pre-rain, Aguas Zarcas CM2 specimens for them.
With Uber Eats bringing you McD fries before they get cold, I understand that for most folks, a wait of years for something you want seems unreasonable. But due to circumstances slower than stalactite growth and more corrupt than a Dagistan border crossing, anything that piques my interest in another country won’t be mine for awhile, if ever, leaving time to change my mind, to suffer ‘Buyer’s Remorse’.
I’m reminded of once waiting for a new girlfriend, who after the first kiss immediately left on a six-month assignment in Antarctica. She’d send me all her love from McMurdo, written on penguin postcards. As months passed, I wavered between desperate desire, and having had forgotten her name.
This time ‘her’ name was easily remembered, if mis-pronounced, Aiquile H5 (Eye-key’-lay). It is the first recovered fall of Bolivia, and only the country’s second meteorite.
A nice personal touch, my friends Andre Moutinho, a Brazilian meteorite dealer, and Bolivian Gonzalo Pereira, an astronomer with the La Paz University de San Andres and Curator of the Colecion de Meteoritos de Blaine Reed in La Paz, were instrumental in coordinating the recovery.
The first authenticated meteorite of Bolivia is Sevaruyo H5. A single, weathered specimen the size of an almond was picked up among the potsherds on the altiplano, by Blaine himself.
It is cold and windy at an elevation of 3749m/12,300′, where on 11 June, 2001, Sevaruyo became the highest-ever meteorite recovery. Blaine was a member of both the 1999 and 2001 expedition teams I assembled for this formidable goal.
The later recovery of Carancas H4-5 in Peru, across a lake called Titicaca, usurped our altitude record.
My Aiquile fragment weighs over 19 grams with a fair amount of oily-black fusion crust.
It arrives to me with a fair amount of intrigue. Plain-clothed, cloak-and-danger chased the foreign hunters out of the country.
I am thrilled to be one of only three or four repositories in the world holding both Bolivian meteorites.
Blaine then introduced me to my new African Pal, Sericho.
Casual reading revealed how far behind I was in regards to the classification of pallasites. Current research no longer supports a 4Vesta monopoly as the parent body of all Pal’s.
I’ll share some wisdom gleaned from random papers I read, trying to catch up.
“Main group pallasite meteorites (PMG) are samples of a single early magmatic planetesimal, dominated by metal and olivine but containing accessory chromite, sulfide, phosphide, phosphates, and rare phosphoran olivine. They represent mixtures of core and mantle materials, but the environment of formation is poorly understood, with a quiescent core–mantle boundary, violent core–mantle mixture, or surface mixture all recently suggested.” (Petrogenesis of main group pallasite meteorites based on relationships among texture, mineralogy, and geochemistry – Seann McKibben et al.)
“However, just as the number of recognized planetesimal sources of crustal, basaltic rocks has increased in recent years (Scott et al. 2009; Sanborn and Yin 2014), so have multiple pallasite parent bodies been recognized by significant differences in oxygen isotope composition that cannot be related to each other through mass‐dependent fractionation (e.g., Clayton and Mayeda 1978, 1996).
“Multiple pallasite parent bodies”?
The hierarchy of pallasite groupings grew as I read about PES (PAL Eagle Station), the ungrouped or anomalous, the low-MnO PMG subgroup (which includes Sericho), those PALS with rounded olivines, those with predominently angular ones, that Sericho has both rounded and polyhedral. Then there’s the sub-groupings based on olivine and metal geochemestry…. I need to make a chart.
Meanwhile, when I retrieved the specimen to take this photo (below) after just two months of resting comfortably in its air-tight ammo box, I noted that it was ‘bleeding’, already a victim of its brief exposure to the steaming jungle.
I couldn’t wait to meet a visual twin of ‘Mars lifer’ ALH84001, the Diogenite NWA 5484.
Not a sexy name, but a real looker. Blaine posted the following write-up of the meteorite for his July 6, 2010 sales list. It’s a lyrical example of Blaine’s authentic enthusiasm for his life’s calling.
NWA5484 – Achondrite (Diogenite) Found 2008. Tkw = 328 grams.
“When Matt Morgan sent me pictures of this stone (it was quite richly priced for “just a diogenite” raw out of the field, so he wanted an outside opinion), I almost fell over (and started screaming “buy it, buy it, buy it!). This thing looks just like the super-famous Alan Hills 84001 (the one that stirred up the life on Mars excitement – something that seems to be rekindling, according to a short article in a recent Popular Science magazine). I have personally seen and held a couple pieces of that stuff, so my alarms went off the second I saw this thing. The same happened with the researchers that started working on this stone. They really thought that it might be another piece of the super special Martian “Diogenite”. This really does a good imitation. It has an identical crystal structure, black spots scattered about (chromite, I believe) and even shows a few thin shock veins. Unfortunately, the oxygen isotopes point to a Vesta origin for this thing (and I would guess that they may have double-checked those results a couple times to be sure). Most of this material has already found homes. Matt is keeping a full slice (maybe 12 or 13grams) for himself and the main mass is already in a private collection. I have all that is available to collectors. Unfortunately, this consists of a mere 41.7 grams total (and I only have 2 complete slices, so those of you that specialize in complete slices of odd and rare meteorites, please contact me quickly). I don’t believe that any Alan Hills 84001 has ever made it into a private collection, but, though a bit expensive for “just a Diogenite”, we can at least own and show off a piece of this fantastic look-a-like.”
At the time, I had read this with great interest. So when this meteorite came up in a conversation in early 2018, I asked Blaine to please set it aside.
During the next two days, we ate well and slept until 7am. Blaine showed me how to clean the weed-wacker carburetor, Blake repaired a table lamp from Nicaragua that I could not, and we drove into the countryside to hike.
Celebratory cigars were purchased from two factories, where tours like “From Seed to Smoke” were included with the un-taxed $2 cigar purchase. While tobacco is grown here, most is imported from Nicaragua, the Dominican and Ecuador. Bales of Cuban tobacco are stored in high-heat and humidity bodegas to cure. I was mildly disappointment that these bales were not ‘wrapper’, the outside leaf of a cigar that brings the umami, but the lesser filler and binder. Nonetheless, the local factory’s products are well-constructed, remaining even-tempered and flavorful until the conclusion of their cremation. They compare favorably with any $10 cigar rated 90 points by Cigar Aficionado.
Having seen the top of Kilimanjaro, we spent our last two nights on DVD climbs of Denali (Alaska), Vincent (Antarctica) and Everest.
On Everest, we were stuck in line, just below the 8,790m/28,839′ summit, waiting our turn to wiggle up the final 15m/50′ ‘Hillary Step’.
Then we were standing on top of the World’s highest mountain, among the Nepalese prayer flags. Thanks to a large TV screen and fabulous POV photographic work done under extreme conditions, ‘we were there’.
The sunrise sky was a cerulean blue, massive 6,000m/20,100′ mountains far below seemed petite.
And we observed the profound exhilaration of those climbers who had won the ultimate challenge.
On to Aguas Zarcas
It was night when my alarm sounded. I made the bed and began breakfast prep. I could hear the men stirring.
Outside the living room’s panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows, a setting moon illuminated silhouettes of cruise ships anchored on a long leash, aimlessly floating 40km/24 miles away in the Golfo de Nicoya.
Having packed The Beast last night, we were on the road at 5:30am. Traffic was lighter than normal and we made excellent time. Once past Naranjo, we headed uphill. I pulled over at a Tico-touristy coffee shop, opening my door to chilly mountain air. Once seated inside, the entire Central Valley, east from Cartago, through San Jose, west to Grecia, was in front of us, volcanoes and mountains rising above the urbanity.
Prize-winning coffee grows here, floral notes and not acidic, selling for hundreds of dollars a pound in Japan and China. But near the source, a cup costs $1.50, no refills.
We were halfway to AZ. I called Joanne and told her we’d be early.
As we wound further uphill on a nothing-but-curves, two-lane road, often idling behind a slow-moving farm vehicle, there was time to discuss recent science work performed on this CM2.
Greg Shanos has presented an outstanding review of this meteorite for the Met Times in the January, 2020 issue (https://www.meteorite-times.com/initial-identification-of-extraterrestrial-amino-acids-in-the-aguas-zarcas-cm2-carbonaceous-chondrite/ ), and he kindly gave me an abbreviated synopsis, to pique your interest to go deeper.
“The fall of the Aguas Zarcas CM2 carbonaceous chondrite on April 23, 2019 commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Murchison CM2 carbonaceous chondrite which fell in Victoria, Australia on Sept 28, 1969. The Murchison meteorite contains a treasure trove of extra-terrestrially-produced molecules for the emergence of life that include amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, and nucleotides. Scientists were hopeful that Aguas Zarcas would also be rich in amino acids. An initial study by Glavin et al, confirmed a total of 19 amino acids in the Aguas Zarcas CM2 carbonaceous chondrite. Murchison by comparison has a total of 96 amino acids to date. The amino acid abundance of the 19 amino acids in Aguas Zarcas was determined to be approximately one third the concentration of that found in the Murchison meteorite. Additionally, an excess of L-type amino acids in the Aguas Zarcas provides evidence of an early solar system formation bias towards L-amino acids prior to the origin of life. The identification and confirmation of extraterrestrial organic molecules in the Aguas Zarcas CM2 carbonaceous chondrite has just begin.”
Over the last months, I had kept in touch with the neighbors living in the strewn field. I had learned that a Gringa woman, an American married to a Tico, had become involved in one-stop commission sales of their meteorites. I contacted her in search of special pieces, informing her that I would soon be there with a buyer.
Joanne sent me emails with photos of her extensive inventory, all sizes and shapes. But her prices-per-gram matched eBay, a non-starter. Although a novice meteorite dealer, she differentiated the prices of pre- and post-rain material.
A couple months before Blaine’s arrival, she told me of a ‘situation’ that had occurred. One that all collectors and dealers worry about when they prepare to board a plane with a carry-on full of expensive rocks. The story she told me contradicted the Costa Rican laws pertaining to meteorites, whether buying or selling, transporting or possession of any amount.
I started taking notes as she talked, because her story was implausible, and because I was unfamiliar with the person she claimed was involved. Although I didn’t know her, she spoke freely.
The incident was alleged to be this; a foreign buyer arrived with his funds and those of others to purchase material.
The buyer purchased meteorites, and Joanne was the source of a few or many. The buyer returned to the airport to leave.
At the airport in Alajuela (SJO), the buyer was taken aside by government agents, and all specimens were confiscated.
The buyer called Joanne, describing the predicament. She told the buyer not to board the plane, and to stay close to the government officials, who had not offered an official document to record the ‘transaction’.
Joanne’s husband allegedly called the airport and spoke with airport security officials. He convinced them that the specimens were for “ important scientific work”.
The officials returned the meteorites.
Joanne told the buyer not to fly home, although the buyer had a ticket and there seemed to be no impediment to doing so, but to drive back to Aguas Zarcas.
After he returned to AZ, the material was shipped out DHL, who’s employees would want to know the package contents and the merchandise value for United States Customs. Of course, as a strategy it could be shipped in multiple packages.
Apparently, there was a happy ending, and all the specimens arrived in the USA.
While everyone else purchasing meteorites and flying away did so uneventfully, according to Joanne, following this episode, at least one other hunter/buyer shipped DHL, rather than carry material past Costa Rican airport security.
I’ve exchanged emails with the buyer from Joanne’s story, an experienced traveler and dealer, who ultimately “did not have time” to discuss the issue, hence I am withholding his name.
Blaine was informed of this incident prior to his flight to Costa Rica.
After a missing sign in San Carlos (Ciudad Quesada) caused a few minutes of ‘displacement’, I located the road we needed, and drove directly to the strewn field in Cocaleca. I stopped to photograph a street sign advertising “Rancho Meteorito.”
It’s actually the second business I’ve seen in Costa Rica with ‘meteorite’ in the name.
It was drizzling and chilly. I needed bladder draining, so I walked to a nearby bar-restaurant. I asked the barmaid if she had any meteorites to sell? An odd question anywhere else, I knew I was near a building that endured a roof-smasher.
“No”. Do you know anybody that does? “No.”
Back outside, the Reed brothers weren’t wasting time, inspecting the crumbling asphalt for space debris. We loaded up and I drove a short distance.
I saw some people sitting on a porch. I rolled down my window, and with incredibly bad Tico manners yelled out, “Tienes algun meteorito para vender?” Do you have any meteorites to sell.” They nodded.
So I got out, opening an umbrella as the rain intensified. They didn’t have any meteorites, but the neighbor across the street did. “Just honk your horn. He’s home.”
Before I could, a boy ran out and opened the gate, signaling for me to drive through the tall grass, closer to the house.
I couldn’t without sinking in the muck, so I parked, leaving the men in The Beast.
Someone came out onto a porch. I walked over and introduced myself.
I told Fernando that I have a scientist and his brother from Colorado with me, here to purchase meteorites. Do you have one you want to sell?
Maybe. Come in. I motioned for the Reeds to join me.
I introduced them and we went inside. It was now raining very hard. Fernando’s bashful teenage daughter joined us, spell bound and smiling as I described our ‘mission’.
Fernando brought out a forty gram individual, a stellar example. I asked Blaine if he wanted to purchase it.
“Without a doubt.”
Blaine had explained to me that presently, and likely going forward unless there are unique research discoveries from the AZ CM2, the international demand for this ‘name’ had been filled. The pieces he has did not sell in Denver. He would not overpay.
He offered ‘7X’ per gram (see my first AZ feature for a ‘monetary’ explanation). The man remained quiet. He was waiting for me to speak again. I didn’t.
Blaine told me that he likes the piece, but it is the first we’ve seen, so he’s not going to increase his price. I conveyed that to the man.
“I don’t want to sell it today anyway. I’ll have to ask my wife what we should do.” I requested his phone number. “We will be in touch.”
Handshakes and thank-you’s all around, and only I have an umbrella, my passengers getting decidedly damp on the way back to the vehicle.
After leaving, I saw Virginia, a hospitable woman with a dog named Chocolate, walking out of a small grocery store. Her family’s pasture was peppered with pieces of space debris. She was among a dozen people I called and/or texted and/or emailed before we left, and she had told me that there were no more meteoritos in Aguas Zarcas. “Michael (Farmer) bought everything.”
Besides the lack of material for sale, the other thing that had changed since my earlier arrival was everyone’s net worth. People I had met had since bought cars and quads, and in the case of Romel Jarquine ‘Generoso‘ Centano, who survived the meteorite falling directly above his head, a farm in Nicaragua.
I drove to another ‘lead’. A shirtless man in shorts was washing his car in the rain. “No, I don’t have any. Try the house over there,” pointing to the house of Joanne.
An indoor meteorite hunt
Joanne and her husband have an American seventies-style ‘ranch’ home. It was grandly decorated for the Christmas holidays in a Disney motif. “You can’t miss it” she had told me on the phone.
We were fifteen minutes early, and the maid asked us to wait on the front patio. Then, as quickly as the clouds and cooling rain disappeared, the sun, heat and humidity arrived.
Joanne pulled onto her gravel drive and we stood to greet here. She asked us in, and sat us down at a heavily varnished, thick-wooden breakfast bar. Nearby cages held a couple of Yellow-nape parrots, good ‘talkers’.
“I’ve had parrots in Costa Rica, but when they passed the Wildlife Law with its $2,500 fines, I feared that I could be driving the bird somewhere, be stopped, and they would confiscate it,” I explained.
“There are so many pet birds here the government doesn’t know what to do with them. It’s better to just keep them,” Joanne insisted.
Until five years ago, every other front porch in Costa Rica shaded a parrot in a tiny cage. In the Central Market of San Jose, one could purchase baby Yellow-Nape or Red Lored, which has the more affectionate personality.
Sometimes their identifying yellow or red markings were unscrupulously painted on a plain-green Mealy parrot, a common and stubborn species unwanted as a pet.
But now there are no parrots on porches, Ticos had instantly adjusted to the high-fine law.
I introduced Blaine and Blake, and Joanne brought out the meteorite specimens. Initials of the owners were on separate cards. All were 15X per gram, a high amount that disappointed me, following my past phone conversations with Joanne.
Blaine carefully examined each one, and I could tell from his body language he wasn’t impressed by the price or the quality. Later he explained, “There were a lot of large, rusty ones. I don’t want to take a chance that the oxidation has penetrated the interior.”
For the Reed’s benefit, I asked Joanne to repeat the story of the airport meteorite confiscation. I took more notes and asked follow-up questions. Even after the months since hearing her first account, the facts remained consistent. But the plot thickened as she offered the name of a suspect who ‘informed’ the officials about someone with contraband. Joanne did not provide evidence of how or why this person compelled officials to act.
Blaine wasn’t ready to purchase these specimens, so we thanked Joanne and I drove off to the next opportunity, the Yellow House.
During my first trip to Aguas Zarcas, I discovered that this was were the neighbors gathered, where children searched next to the street’s fresh asphalt. There’s very little traffic, a car every ten minutes. I purchased many pre-rain specimens from awed youngsters here, the pride of their parents apparent.
It was here that a Costa Rican University professor insisted I ‘register’ and donate material. When I rejected his requests, he took a photo of my license plate, a polite form of ‘intimidation.’ It worked, and I worried all the way home.
I parked in front of the house, and a woman recognized me and waved. She had showed me a one kilo, black-velvet individual on my first of many visits. She would not let it out of her hands. She would not let me photograph it, or even show it to me a second time. She would not sell it, but later she did. However, I was soon able to purchase specimens enough from others to deplete my cash.
After speaking with her, she confirmed that there were few meteorites left in the neighborhood.
The passing days and months have allowed me to fully comprehend the exceptional moment I had here in April, 2019. I will always treasure the surreal memories of my never-to-be-repeated experience of being first to this strewn field, briefly having it all to myself, wondering where everyone else was. During those precious hours, it was an out-of-body experience, being offered coconut shells full of fresh meteorites…the type that impregnate virgin planets
I drove to George Valerio’s nearby ‘Rancho Meteorito’ Restaurant. His multi-hectares of cow farm was a lucky winner in last April’s Galactic Lottery. Back then, I would visit and he would show specimens for which he wanted a high price. I would return the next day to find he hadn’t sold any, had even more, and had doubled the price. However, the Russians seemed fond of jovial George, and they may have paid up for his beautiful material.
George had converted a large outside family room into an unlicensed, never busy business. I can’t speak for the food, and I didn’t see a menu. But the fish would be extremely fresh, as there is a creek running through the property. George had damned it to create two ponds, separately holding tilapia and delicious guapote (Rainbow Bass).
George and his wife Marena were happy to see us, and George gave us a tour of the property, proudly pointing out where individual meteorites had been found by family members and hunters he recalled by name. But now they had none to sell.
Adventure ‘By the Hour’ (No extra charge)
There were no more meteorite sellers to meet, so we drove to the Wal-Mart super store in Aguas Zarcas and purchased fruit, snacks, beer and wine. The store was quite clean, the shelves fully stocked, the parking lot spotless. In Costa Rica, working for Wal-Mart is a prideful and prestigious, high-paying job.
After a long day driving, knocking door-to-door, then shopping, we finally arrived at the Hotel Provincial, where Johann at reception was expecting us. A night of budget luxury costs $27 a room.
We were planning on two days in AZ, but the rain was persistent. When the sky flashed bright, it wasn’t from flaming fireballs.
We realized that only a small amount of expensive, low-quality material was available. And the best specimen we saw was not.
We were told that no one was searching for meteorites in the cow pastures due to the seasonal fear of venomous snakes, and we should re-consider that plan.
After a shower and change of clothes, we walked upstairs to the restaurant, a sports bar, excited to dine on the world’s best ‘fried yucca in garlic butter’. A great way for the Reeds to end the day, everything on the menu was attentively prepared, the waitresses pretty, the beer cold, and the restaurant closed for repairs.
So much for their excellent breakfast, too.
I drove downtown in the last twilight to the Chinese restaurant, where a street dog with indifferent eyes had kept me company in April, but wasn’t starving enough to brave the December drizzle, apparently a fair-weather friend. The chubby Chinese chef with the Mao haircut who beat a rhythm on her wok, must have been off to band practice.
The rice was nice. The drive home an athletic event, where off-sides could incur the death penalty.
The two-lane asphalt road downtown has no curbs or yellow lines, using deep drainage ditches to enforce driving discipline. Intersections lack traffic lights. The majority of streetlights are out. In this darkness, the rain was now falling thick and fast.
Two lanes were shrunk to one by trucks parked for deliveries, buses stopping for passengers. In this chaos, rush-hour cars are fighting to gain any next inch, the waterfall-like precipitation slicing headlight beams a hundred ways, photons flying like drunken lasers. Umbrella-clutching pedestrians are hiding behind the cars, trucks and buses, waiting to dart across the road.
After waiting to turn into this morass, the intersection completely filled with vehicles, I made a sudden hard left, in front of a turning bus that momentarily blocked traffic, opening a lane to my advantage. Simultaneously, it then appeared that molecules of my vehicle, and those from a mother dragging her kid in front of The Beast, had merged. But a nano-second later, she dodged away, allowing me to complete a bloodless turn.
After I ran the gauntlet and parked back at the hotel, Blake exclaimed, “I could never drive here.”
Local Gravity experienced by a Spaceman, Selling Passports to Heaven
After learning that el hombre meteorito, The Meteorite Man Robert Haag, had been in Aguas Zarcas spreading magic, I sent him an interview request for this feature.
Since Zagami, we’ve kept in touch. We soon exchanged mutually entertaining off-topic emails of an existential nature, that immediately disappeared as vapors down the Wormhole.
But Roberto’s initial reply, sent through sub-space was preserved, and read….
Thanks for the hello howdy amigo.
Costa Rica is a wonderful place and believe me I understand why you choose to live there.
Meteorites fall exactly right where they are needed most.
I asked him to share his wisdom and joy with his friends and admirers, and for the readers of the Met Times, his AZ adventure.
Thus commenced some flow-of-consciousness, spontaneous fun.
Enjoy the weightlessness.
******* Aquas Zarcas Adventure ******
OMG wow what a big deal ~ CM2 new fall IN COSTA RICA !!!!
..talk about fantastic all the good stuff ! Jungle, Volcanoes and hot springs, beaches and especially TICOS !
some of the nicest people I ever met, easy and open.
This time like usually I arrived too late for the easy pieces and that’s fine ..who needs drama.
Some of my meteorite competitors/ hunting friends arrived early~ did fantastic.
like gifts, then ran.
Its called RISK !~ and good for them to try and succeed.
do nothing- get nothing
once the news hits everything changes
For those first arriving
First time was easy to buy for silver prices
as they learn value now its GOLD prices or more.
some people were pissed off ..shocker
and when I arrived 2 weeks later its gold.
First, like everywhere I got lost just getting out of San Jose…until you get your bearing and a feel for roads where NOT to go…head towards Naranjo!
Finally arrived in San Carlos /Aquas Zarcas area late in the afternoon. Got a sweet cheap hotel in town to park my camper van in safe place food drink hot shower. Near the church.
The camper van was brilliant I must say…I parked in the middle of the strewnfield next to the river centerline at the bridge
…with watermelon and soda, a smile and $$$ … and let them know why I am here.
I stayed there 10 full days.
I searched and searched in the steaming hot jungle and it was already all stomped down and heavily searched. really searched well
Personally, I found nothing . crap
…but I found 19 people with pieces much better strategy and I will take it.
get over yourself.
almost right away, as I drove around the area I met a gal
with a tiny perfect pentagon shaped stone OMG small 2 grams ?
do you want to sell it?
$100 ok with me !
everyone was thrilled !
..as people realized I was here at the bridge daily until I ran outta money.
all I could get from 3 credit cards debit cards was around $800 per day.
Every fall is different, strewn field, local customs…not sure what to expect
who is this stranger, open and approachable y Hablo espanol. gringo.
..and so the best move is ALWAYS go to the police and introduce myself and explain why I am here.
I am not afraid to say hello and Que paso amigo !
everyone had a story and knew someone who found and sold and got rich for awhile.
some lucky finders ~new car or down payment on a house or even a new scooter or something
It is a gift from Heaven above.
sell it now while there are buyers kids.
embrace the science and GO LOOKING!!! find some, be a part of it all
fun adventure score get paid.
Its funny how many people absolutely would not believe it.
even when I showed them the beautiful fresh stone i purchased for too much $, and have them hold them with their exotic smells ~ disbelief- a lot of disbelief.
why are you REALLY HERE ?????
ok forget it… find someone else .
BY the time I arrive everything was more valuable than GOLD
ok I prefer meteorites.
I only had so much $$ and I love meteorites a lot (..no,WAY more than a lot)
..always paid more because only wanted the best- fresh complete small stone to keep.
NOT ONE have I sold… not sell a single piece, not one.
mine to eat or sleep with or show and tell!
..after awhile I could tell I was becoming a target ~ and watch out.
so I left happy ~thrilled with myself for going.
and trying and well I did it.
There is more to be found
Remember everyone… its NOT FROM COSTA RICA
Its from cometary deep space
think like this
..if a space ship landed in Ohio is it from Ohio?
no its not
Love ya Bob Haag
Reader’s may find this list of the world’s largest meteorites by classification worthy of review.
Set the controls for the Heart of the Sun
Nothing but rain in Aguas Zarcas. “How ’bout we find some sunshine somewhere to dry us off?”
We went to bed listening to Mother Nature watering her meteorites, the ones still hidden in the weeds, relentlessly breaking them down to their usable components. An even louder roar of the white waters of the river next to the hotel was less benign, now running over its banks, threatening the first floor rooms of the hotel.
Nothing had changed by the time we awoke. It seemed best to put our business here on hold, and my friends agreed, the rain dripping off their baseball cap visors.
We had an appointment with a volcano, and would pass through Aguas Zarcas on our way out. I would try one more time to help Blaine purchase worthy material.
Our next stop would be Fortuna, where we would explore trails around Volcan Arenal, west of the Caribbean rain shadow. Even if the sun didn’t shine during our hikes, the thick and high forest canopy would diminish the hardest tropical downpour to pleasant drippy drops. So in that respect, we hoped to be fortunate in Fortuna.
Ironically, the supposed parent body of the Aguas Zarcas CM2 meteorite is asteroid 19 Fortuna.
Perhaps during the final moments of its space voyage, a gust of solar-wind pushed the rock, altering the path from where it was supposed to fall.
After a roadside stop for a tipico gallo pinto breakfast of rice and beans, we left Aguas Zarcas.
Probably not my brightest move after the day-and-night rain, I tried to cut cross-country on a ‘lesser’ road, a ‘dotted line’ road, that would lead to a ‘solid line’ road, and soon enough, a ‘real road’.
For directions, I was using my most accurate of twelve CR maps, the Nat Geo ‘Adventure Map of Costa Rica’. As I drove north, it became obvious that the map contradicted faded road signs made from wood splinters, nailed to trees. The ‘adventure’ concluded when I asked for directions from a man shepherding cows, and was sent back to the splinters.
With perseverance, I located the real road. But then the ‘torrential’ rain found us again.
Let me mention that Ticos have many names for ‘types/intensities’ of rain, like weathermen have categories of hurricanes.
The lightest drizzle is called, “Pello de gato”, ‘hair of the cat’.
This rain would likely have a ‘big animal name’, something with elephants or whales.
I was driving in dark twilight with the overhead headlights on high-beam at 10am, through deep, heavy water that covered the road, rising midway up my rims, sometimes grabbing The Beast, shoving it sideways. I was leaving a wake behind me.
In the gloam, we passed nothing more interesting than the pineapple fields that grow horizon-to-horizon on the Great Plain of San Carlos.
The rain overwhelmed my windshield wipers, cranked up and slashing like an insane metronome, dancing a tarantella before suffering a nervous breakdown. But it was barely drizzling when we entered Fortuna, an hour later.
La Fortuna is an international backpacker tourist town, with jungle-themed diversions.
‘Tarzan’ zip lines fly you through the forest canopy past annoyed Howler monkeys.
Cave tours loaning flashlights with failing batteries climax at walls you must dive under.
There are waterfalls to rappel down and hot springs to soak in, carefully, as the Costa Rican Health Ministry recently warned after a couple of deaths … “Once the ameba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is usually fatal”.
Later, Fortuna’s raison d’être, Volcan Arenal, a double-coned colossus, is front-and-center, free to stare at in exhausted awe, if you’re still alive.
It’s illegal to climb the volcano, after too many deaths occurred during its eruptions, now ended. Hardly anyone knows the way up. Guides won’t go there and risk their license.
There are no trails, so you crawl much of the way, at the same ground level favored by the many deadly Terciopelos and Eye-lash vipers that (hopefully) will be seen (in time).
Our next ‘alojamiento‘ will go unnamed, to keep anyone reading this from going there. It was a multi-unit Airbnb deal. The directions placed it on a different street, next to a different river.
As is the fashion now, the digitally-focused, richly inked, millennial owner-couple, preferred no human contact. But their druthers were sabotaged by a lock box holding the unit keys that didn’t open with the PIN they sent me. Calls went unanswered until they couldn’t be ignored, whereas no help or best wishes were offered. Blaine took matters into his own hands, and persuaded the box to open.
Our second-floor home for the next three nights was adorned in the trappings of upward-mobility. It had a kitchen, useful in this ‘tourist’ place where Trip Advisor comments concurred, “You pay way too much for a meal in this town and get nothing good to eat!”
The bathroom ceiling was collapsing and the only toilet jammed on the first flush. A written note asked that the rent money be left on a table when we checked out, next to the ‘tip jar’. A promised balcony view of the volcano, our highest priority, useful for passing the time discussing the best routes up, was a fiction, although clouds covered it anyway. But the wifi was fast and strong. Without even one English-language TV station, we smoked our cigars and watched drug dealing under the streetlight below.
And next door, too. Blake wondered, “Why do so many people come and go into that house?”
And why do they enter through an open window, hardly discreet, the curtain blowing in the breeze. Little children played indifferently on the floor.
In between long bouts of rain, we managed to shop for souvenirs, and no one complained when I priced air-conditioners to deal with climate change, back home. We hiked around the volcano on trails I’ve guided many times.
While there were no Howler monkeys, three-toed sloths, herds of tusked peccaries or ant-bears to amuse us, as exercise routines go, it sure beat speed-walking laps around the Mall.
When we drove into the private reserve, Senderos Silencios (Silent trails), that provides big views of the volcano, it was ‘slightly’ raining. But enough to keep both reasonable and adventurous vacationers inside.
While glad for my Gore-tex boots and jacket, clutching an umbrella brought no shame.
Back in the room, and still raining, we had time to kill, a rare luxury these days, and I discovered that when all the beer is gone, and all you have is Squirt, limes and cheap rum, rim the glass with sugar, use a lot of ice, and except heartfelt credit for inventing a delicious beverage.
The Long Way Home
The Reed brothers were flying out tomorrow, so I made some ‘last-call’ texts back to Aguas Zarcas. Blaine had decided to accept Joanne’s price so we would try to see her again.
Then Fernando of the wonderful 40 gram individual accepted Blaine’s increased offer, but he’s in far away Grecia. I asked him if his wife or daughter could accept the money and his reply was confusing. I couldn’t get him to understand that we are only passing through.
Then the sun came out. I took the non-adventure route back to AZ.
On the way, Joanne replied by text that she would not be home for us, but her husband would help. He did. He also explained his plan for when the rain stops. He will blast several hectares of cow pasture with Round-Up to burn off the underbrush, and pick up lots of black (and rusty) rocks.
I noted a new caged bird, “Isn’t that a Black-faced Solitaire?”
“I just bought it from a neighbor” he said.
The bird is in front of me, in shock. I was profoundly saddened.
When I first arrived here in 1985, these birds were always heard in any stretch of rain forest, the damper and darker the better. Frustratingly, even with binoculars, I could never find them in the shady canopy, they blend in well. I believe this is the first one I’ve actually seen!
Their song is other-worldly, haunting. Some believe the song resembles the movement of a ‘rusty gate’. A rusty gate at a cemetery at midnight…
I don’t hear this bird anymore. Anywhere.
They are becoming rare in their last, most remote habitats. Their world-wide range is minuscule.
Click on this xeno-canto.org link, https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Myadestes-melanops
…and then find 2nd one down, the Jorge Campos recording noted here which is exquisite, and was made only a few kilometers from Aguas Zarcas.
Blaine selects a few specimens and we leave for Fernando’s home. I’m parking on the road in front of his house when my phone rings. After accepting Blaine’s increased offer, now he doesn’t want to sell. I drive on.
I still had directions for one more stop, a man who has a large specimen to sell. I find the home and meet Joshua, his aunt, and his six-year-old nephew, Jacob. Joshua brings out the specimen.
Blaine makes a business decision, and passes on this opportunity.
Young Jacob is interested in talking with us, and quietly and excitedly does so in English. Before we leave, he insists on giving us gifts, two colorful rocks he has collected.
Joshua offers me his email address so we can keep in touch. Later, he sends me some photos, to which I have acknowledged his contribution (he’s ‘J G Fuentes’). I’ll look him up next time I’m there.
We began the long journey home.
For magnificent forest views between the volcanos Barva and Poas , and to better reach our hotel in Alajuela, I took the alternate, scenic route. It climbs steadily from the San Carlos plains until we reach the fringes of altitude-induced, dwarf cloud forest. Epiphytes and bromeliades abundantly cling to slow-growing trees, who’s leaves are rarely dry.
It’s damp, chilly and foggy year round. It’s the place to spend a quiet night in front of a fireplace holding hands with your lover, listening to crackling cedar wood that fills the cabin with the spirit if high school winter hay rides, while doing nothing more vigorous than keeping the logs burning.
Along the way I spot a pizote (piz – oh’ – tea, or ‘coati’ in English) next to the road , an excuse to stop and stretch our legs. Here’s a better photo is of this animal, as seen at nearby ‘Waterfall Gardens’ last year.
An hour later we were on the other side of Volcan Poas and ready for lunch.
After two years of sporadic eruptions, mostly explosions of steam and rock, the tourist department thought it best to add concrete bomb shelters crater-side, and have everyone visiting wear a hard hat. It certainly adds to the sense of adventure for the tourists. And they are limiting the visitors, based on the capacity of the cement bomb shelters, which are stocked with gas masks.
Poas is not a climbing mountain, it is a ‘handicap access’, drive-up-to-look-inside-the-crater mountain.
For Ticos, it always was a spontaneous day- trip on a whim. As it was, if you didn’t get there at the 8am open, you likely were fogged out, like most of the tourists paying $80 for the bus ride from their hotel.
But one no longer just ‘shows up’. Now you have to go online, register, select a twenty minute window on the future day that you want to go crater-side, and purchase tickets. For this twenty minute reserved view, you’ll be timing the half-hour walk from the parking lot, and the three hour drive from San Jose, or from wherever, as if anyone here is wired for punctuality.
Visitor numbers have crashed, and the businesses nearby are desperate. The volcano, due to its proximity to San Jose was the country’s #1 attraction. People would go just to picnic and never even walk to the crater.
But the restaurant I want for lunch is still open. It reeks of wood smoke because they cook over it, and there’s an alpine chill at 2,500m/8,000′. We ordered ‘chifrito’, a fancier rice-and-bean bowl, and the brand new-today 6.0 Pilsen beer, a hearty malt, which instantly became my favorite.
While I had mapped perfect directions to reach the men’s fourth hotel within the maze of Alajuela’s tight, one way city streets, I drove past it a couple of times, but couldn’t find it. I called, and the man at reception told me to look for a sign that said ‘Mazur’, “We’re across the street.”
Every building had signs. But I found the faded sign for the ‘Mazur printing business’. Across the street was a house behind a rusty, chain-link fence, converted to a down-scale backpacker’s hotel.
Being near the International airport, it’s normal that there will be no reasonably priced hotels, but no over-night parking? One can park on the street, walk away from your wheels and pay a ‘watch-y-mon’ to ‘guard’ (hahahaha) your car, although he’s not there at night.
The reason I selected this property was for its free, off- street parking, that it was close to the airport, and because they had a room for three men that only cost $60. Otherwise, we needed two rooms for three times the price.
There were expected idiosyncrasies.
Blaine and Blake would share bunk beds.
The bathroom warns you of unusual plumbing.
And at reception, the ‘Rainbow flag’ proudly hung.
Love is love. I took it as another sign that we were getting closer to that elusive pot of gold.
It was sunset when we hit the street for Alajuela’s central park, to ‘people watch’ before dinner.
There’s a few century-old buildings of Spanish-colonial design, the gardens are well-maintained, and towering, hundred year-old mango trees seasonally drop fruit on your careless head.
People stopped to chat with us, asking in the only words they knew in English, “What country are you from?” after which, the questions end.
We walked into the patriarchal Catholic cathedral, giving thanks that Blaine had some specimens. I was grateful that we had completed our journey without experiencing crime or accident, as do almost half of all tourists.
The country just dropped a notch (to ‘2’) in the ‘world safe-travel ratings’ of the US State Department, and I’m not surprised that it is no longer considered as safe as Omaha (‘1’).
But I would disagree that CR is as dangerous as Salvador or Guatemala. Maybe Costa Rica is a 1.5, along with Cleveland.
Hungry for our last supper, we were lucky to get a table at Jalapenos, where restaurateur Norm from NJ, presides. He was talking to another patron when we walked in, and when he saw me, with pure Joey-sie aplomb yelled, “Hey Kevin!”
How he remembers names like he does is remarkable. When we left, he was on the street talking to someone, so we walked over to join the conversation. Norm is famous throughout Costa Rica for being the perpetual winner of the annual Chili Cook-off that attracts teams from all over the world.
I congratulated him on his fish tacos, a Best Buy, and learned how difficult it was to train the help to make the same perfect taco every time. He remembered Blaine from his visit two years ago.
“How could I forget someone that let me hold a piece of the Moon!?”
And Blaine let him hold it again.
Back at the Vida Tropical, we could hear the sell-out crowd at the nearby La Liga stadium, the fanaticos of my team the roji-negros, erupting in cheer as they scored on arch-rival Saprissa.
Wake-up was 5am, so we called it a night.
The wall-banger aircon kept me up, but the others seemed asleep.
I had requested that reception call for a taxi at 5:30, as the men needed to check in for their flight at 6. My alarm went off at 5, and since they had packed last night, were soon ready for their ride. I would stay here until 9, needing to run errands in the big city before the tedious trudge home.
But no taxi arrived, and reception was closed. I texted for an Uber. He was here in minutes.
I helped my friends load up, made sure the driver was going to the correct airport, and wished Blaine and Blake a “Buen viaje”, followed by awkward ‘man hugs’.
I tracked the Uber to the airport, saw that it arrived on time, and went downstairs for toast and coffee. Reception was now open, and the man asked me if I needed a taxi.
Later, I learned that upon their arrival at the airport, the Uber driver was involved in a collision with another car, almost ripping off a taxi door as he passed. The Reeds were shook up, but no injuries were reported.
By midnight, the brothers were safely back home with meteorites, and more memories to share next time we’re together.
Happy trails to all, and to all a good night!
Nine degrees N and due S of Aguas Zarcas, Costa Rica
‘The Art of Collecting Meteorites” – for sale or rent on Amazon.