There’s a knocking at the door?!
I’d told her that I would be there. When it all went wrong, I had no way of getting in touch with her. I felt the panic setting in, my back tightening, just like someone cranking it with a winch. I reckon she can look after herself, but it’s never good waiting, expecting someone to come, who never arrives.
I smoked a joint to try to get down. I drank down a bottle of red to quench my dry throat.
Eventually she called. She told me that she’d made it to a hotel in Alajuela, and that they were having a party. I told her my situation with the car, and asked her to call me at around 7:00 a.m. to figure out how we would hook up.
That fucking car!
Sleep was fitful, at best. When I saw the dawn light, I had to admit the obvious to myself, I was not going to be able to get sleep.
The light of the approaching day was beautiful. I pulled on the long underwear, a pair of shorts and a sweater. I set the water on the stove, and walked outside to the concrete patio, on the south side of the house.
I smoked while the water came to a boil; I was amazed how mild it was outside. Coming inside to make the espresso was like walking into a cooler.
I took it and a chair back out onto the south-facing patio. The first rays of sunlight hit me from over the ridge.
I sat and watched the sun come up, and imagined I noticed the slightest of slackening of the tight knot, running from my skull to my sacrum.
Back inside, I cooked up some toast, and made another coffee.
I walked out to try the car. It wouldn’t start. I started disassembling the engine, methodically, just because I wanted something to do with my nervous energy. I tried the spraying-alcohol-into-the-carburettor trick, but it didn’t work. I began to admit to myself, for the first time that I would likely have to make alternative transport plans to pick up Mick, Alex and Boston, and somehow also get Karina.
I came back inside and rolled another joint.
That’s when I heard the knock at the door!
There is a second knocking. Who could be at my door, at this time!? That is not the knock of Tanya. Did someone see me smoking grass? I put the partially rolled joint in a covert spot, and rub my hands with a damp kitchen rag.
It’s a man I don’t recognize. He looks like he might be in the forties, maybe a very fit fifty.
He waves back at the car and asks if there is anything that he can do to help, just like it happens everyday.
<<¿Are you a mechanic?>>
<<Okay. Let’s try.>>
I explain how I’ve sometimes been able to get it started with the alcohol spray into the carburettor. He takes the can and tells me to try and start it. We try it for a couple of minutes, but it’s not working. “Bastante,” <<I’m worried about waking the people who live in this house.>> I point at Flor de Alicia’s house.
<<No, don’t worry about that.>>
The car isn’t too loud, but it’s loud enough to bother you, if you were sleeping.
<<¿What’s your name?>>
He seems a little bit surprised by the question. <<I’m Alfaro, Richard’s father.>>
I’ve never met him. He looks too young to have a thirty-year-old son.
“Dean. Mucho gusto, Alfaro. Muchas gracias por mi ayudar con mi caro.”
He starts laughing. I recognize it as a reaction to my poor Spanish; I can hear it myself. I laugh, too. He says, <<You are most welcome. I apologize that we couldn’t get it working. ¿I could give you a lift?>>
<<Ah, I’m going down to pick up some friends at the airport, a couple and their daughter, who is six years old. That’s too far. And, it’s complicated, because I have to pick up another friend who’s in Alajuela. But I have no way to get in touch with her. Thanks, but maybe you have the number to get a taxi? ¿How much do you think it would cost to go there and back?>>
He puts his hand to his chin, pondering. <<About 6000 to get there. Probably twice that, 12000, to go and come back.>>
It’s about sixty bucks, Canadian. I’m thrilled to be able to buy a cure to my affliction for that modest amount. “Buenos. ¿Conocéis uno conductor?”
“Sí. ¿A qué hora llegarán?”
“Llamo ahora, un momento.” He turns and walks to his house. He comes out looking at an address book. We go into my casa and he uses the phone. He speaks in rapid Spanish, then hangs up. <<He’ll be here by 11:00. His name is Armand. It’s ¢8000 to go there and back, plus another ¢4000, if it takes longer than three hours. He’s got a Land Cruiser that will be big enough to accommodate all of you. ¿Would you like me to call a mechanic for your car?>>
<<¡That would be great!>>
Connections are good.
He speaks on the phone, saying ‘Carlos’, more than once.
<<¿Is that Carlos with the shop at the top of the hill, on the far side of Zarcero, through the stoplight?>>
He’s laughing again at my Spanish, and nodding. <<That’s him. He’ll be right here. He’s one of Richard’s best friends.>> He looked at his watch. <<I have to go and work.>>
I walk Alfaro out, thanking him profusely. I feel a lot better since his intervention. I have a plan and I’m at ease with the situation. The tightness in my back isn’t gone completely, but it’s much better.
The phone rings. It’s Karina. She sounds rough, but I’m glad to be talking to her. The tension in my back eases, a bit more. I sigh as she blathers on about the ‘rockin’ party night.
“Do yuh think you could make it to the airport by 12:30?”
“If you’re gonna be there, I’ll get there, even if I have to walk.”
“Okay. Good. I want you to go to the small terminal. It’s a tiny one, mostly for charters. It’s just further on down the road, from the main terminal. You came into the main terminal, didn’t you?”
“Yah, but I know the one you’re talking about. I’ll be there, bud.”
“Okay, I’ll see you then. I’m glad to hear your voice.”
“Rock on, dude.”
I cook some bacon and eggs with potatoes and toast. When it’s mostly gone, I make another espresso, then finish it all off.
Carlos shows up. I help him start to take the engine apart.
He’s looking at the underside of the carburettor and back to the fuel line as if it doesn’t make any sense. A horn sounds. I hear the rumble of a diesel engine.
Carlos yells, <<Armand, we’re in here. Come in here.>>
I shake hands with Armand as he yells a faux-insult, as greeting to Carlos. <<Soy Dean.>>
He looks me in the eyes and nods.
<<¿Armand, is it okay we go in five minutes?>> I hold up my blackened hands, and look at them.
<<¿This is your car?>>
<<It’s a strong car.>> he says, nodding.
<<Yeah, when it’s working. It’s been sick lately. Okay, I’ll be out in five, at the most.>>
I hear him asking Carlos something as I trot in the front door and throw off the dirty clothes on my way to wash my hands and arms.
* * *
The clock on the dashboard of the red Land Cruiser changes to 11:00 a.m. as we’re pulling out of Palmira.
The drive is smooth and uneventful.
We pull up to the airport. I see Karina as I walk in the sliding glass doors.
I hug her and point to Armand in the parking lot, and tell her I’m going to look around for my friends, and what they look like.
It’s very crowded in the terminal building. I go straight through to the exit gate. They emerge right away.
I shake Mick’s hand. He grins from ear to ear. I hug Alex and pat Boston on the head, then pick up two large bags, and take them through the crowd and out the door.
Karina is in conversation with Armand, describing the party in Alajuela, the night before.
Mick Alex and Boston have two medium-sized back packs and one small one, but Karina has a huge suitcase and duffel bag, and a medium-sized back pack. Armand spends a couple of minutes organizing the luggage, much of which he straps to the roof rack. It’s tight inside with all of us, but we’re all in.
Mick sits in the front seat and doggedly tries to converse in Spanish with Armand. Armand makes a series of noises; it takes a moment to realize that he is trying to say something in English. I can’t understand what it is, but Mick nods and says something equally understandable in Spanish.
Karina tells Alex and Boston about her adventure arriving, and the party that ensued, using six-year-old descriptions, barely disguising explicit adventures.
We pull off the main highway and up the hill to Naranjo.
“The view is great here.” Mick spreads his hand out to the right and behind, as we pull out of Naranjo.
I remember coming through here, the first time; I was on a bus to Quesada, and then to Arenal. I could hardly believe the clarity on the air, and how healthy and happy the people looked.
I take a good look around, impossible to do safely while driving oneself. It’s slightly hazy, so the colours in the valley are muted to pastels, but I marvel at it. I’ve never taken such an open look at it before, “yeah it really is!”
It transfixes me, “it’s nice here. That’s why I picked this place to come to”, I nod my head forward and back in a slow bobbing motion.
I breathe deeply and feel the stress leaving me, like it’s bleeding out of me. I feel lighter. “I’m glad you guys made it.”
I remember how stressed out I was through the night, sweating it out.
My reverie is broken by a swerve and Armand raising his arm out the window and swearing. He’s really agitated. “¿Armand, possiblemente una parada a Miramar?
“Are you hungry?” I look at the three of them, and repeat it, “how yuh doin’ Mick? D’yuh wanna stop for a refreshment?”
Everybody is nodding. I can see Armand is distracted. His agitation is getting worse, for no apparent reason. Mick notices it too. He looks at Armand, and says, “cerveza frio.”
I see him notice Armand calming down. He looks at me, and we both know it at the same time.
“There it is. Were gonna stop at that place, Miramar. This is a great place. Wait till you see… what you can see from there.”
As we approach it, I notice for the first time how the back patio is propped up on long stilts, hanging out over the cliff.
We pull into the small parking lot, adjacent to the entrance. Armand looks fine. He waits patiently as everybody gets out.
We get a spot on the back patio, hanging out over the cliff.
Armand hangs out at the bar.
It’s hazy. A warm breeze blows up from the valley. It feels good. It must be 15 degrees cooler here than the 35 degrees in the shade, at the airport. The view is indeed nice.
The waiter takes the order. I go to wash my hands.
As I come back out, I point down the valley, “I think this is the Central Valley; some guy told me that, anyways. I point to the right, “he said San José is down there, somewhere.”
I point to the left, along the face of the mountain, “I was trying to get this, like gingerbread A-frame house, just up the road, on this side of the highway. There’s a bit more land before the drop. It was cute, but, uh…, we couldn’t come to terms with the super.”
“I can see something down there.” Karina looks intensely down the valley to the right.
“What do yuh see?”
“A cloud of pollution.”
Mick has his small binoculars out. We’re taking turns looking at distant forms when the food starts to come out.
I look inside and see a second beer brought to Armand, leaning into the bar.
We finish the food before the second beer is gone.
It’s hot inside the truck, but Armand is as cool as a cucumber the rest of the way to Zarcero, and up the hill towards Palmira.
We crest; I’m shocked at the intensity of the green. It’s bright. I haven’t seen it so bright before. The full, white sun beams down through the thin air. It hurts my eyes, though I can feel it making me feel better, the drugs entering from the backs of my eyes, and going directly into my brain.
We pull up to the gate. Karina gets out and wanders around in circles, looking up into the sky. She’s grinning like a small child. “This is so cool. How did you find this place?”
“First I gotta tell ya, this is the nicest that it has been, since I got here. I don’t know how I got it; it just happened, one thing lead to another, and then… this place!”
I follow her across the road, and down onto the soccer field. She trots bare foot, in gentle circles, “this place is great.”
I go down to the push up position, and relaxing, I lay my cheek on the cropped grass. It’s damp.
I go back to the truck. I take the last bag from the roof rack. Armand seems eager to be on his way. Mick is trying to give him a bottle of booze that he bought duty-free. Armand turns him down, but says to me, “¿guaro?”
I picked up some bags, and carry them to the porch where Alex and Boston stand in the shade. I unlock the house and carried some stuff in. I set it down on the floor in the lowered section, next to the couch. I go into the kitchen and grab three shot glasses and a bottle.
I call them to come inside the gate. I place the glasses on the hood of the car. I wonder if it’s working? Karina is with them. I pour.
“Salud Armand. Muchos gracias para conducir.” I refill my glass and give it to Karina. Armand shakes my hand, “Gracias”.
“Cuánto?” I pull out the wad of bills and look at Armand. He looks back questioningly, and starts shaking his head.
“No, no, we took care of that”, Mick interjects.
“Oh. Entonces, bueno! Muchos gracias.” I shake his hand again, “Gracias.”
He turns and walks to his truck.
“Muchos gracias. Muchos gracias.”
Mick looks at the bottle. I pour him another, and look at Karina. She nods so I pour another into her glass. I wipe off Armand’s glass, with my shirt, and pour another there. I put the bottle down and hold up the glass and look into the clear white liquid, “I’m glad yer here.”
I clink it on their glasses.
“What’s that stuff?”
“Guaro.” I hand him the bottle.
He examines the stark, black label. “Not bad.” He pours himself another and drinks it slowly. “Ahh, not bad.”
“Come in. I’ll show you the place.”
Alex and Boston are just about asleep, on the couch.
Mick goes to them. I show Karina around the place. Mick is in the kitchen; he’s looking in the fridge. “Grab two Bavaria’s, dude.” I turn to Karina, “Karina?”
“I think… de’yuh got red?”
“I must have something drinkable.” I smirk at her; she smiles. I take the cork out of an Argentinean red. “Alex what do you want, anything to drink?”
“Water.” I hear the sound of quiet discussion. “Two waters, please.”
I hand Karina the glass of wine. I take the offered bottle from Mick, knock the bottle gently against his the other he holds, and look him in the eye, “Prost, ” as I tip it back and drink.
I take two glasses and a bottle of mineral water out to the lounge. “You look whacked. How yuh doin’ munchkin?” Boston stretches like a cat. I pour. Boston takes a glass and downs it steadily. “Thirsty, I see.”
She nods. I refill her glass.
“Is that a dog?”
Someone had put Chocoleto’s skinny, lanky six-month old, black Lab out in the yard.
Boston goes. Everyone else follows.
It’s perfect outside. The extraordinarily bright sun shines unfettered. It’s dry. The air is crisp, yet soft at the same time.
The puppy is big, clumsy, and excitable.
I show them the avocado tree on the lawn, and the lime tree around the south side.
Boston is fawning over the dog. Alex thinks we should take it for a walk.
I knock on the door of the small house, and ask Flor de Alicia if we can take the dog for a walk. She says something I don’t understand, then reaches behind me, and hands me the leash, smiling.
I thank her and bow back, gently closing the door behind me.
We go right. The asphalt pavement ends, as the long, steep hills begins. At the top, the road bends left, to the west.
Boston rides on Karina’s back. The two lag behind, looking at wild flowers along the embankment of the road.
We wait at a spot that is clear, looking north. The valley leads all the way to Arenal. The view of the valley spreads on and on below, bathed in the white-golden light. I stare in amazement. The colour and clarity is super real.
We walk along to a small double track.
Mick, “where does this go?”
“I don’t know. Let’s go that way.”
Mick smiles. We walk for a while before coming to the end of the road at a wall of cabbage. “I think there’s some cabbage around here, somewhere.”
“There must be a lot of water around here?”
“There’s water everywhere up here, especially this year.”
We reverse and after retracing our path, stomp down the steep hill, to the gate of the casa. Everyone is hungry. I get the car keys to see if the car will work. It starts right up. I see the time by the dashboard clock; I can hardly believe that we’ve been gone for two hours on the walk. I turn the car off.
“Hey, I’ll take you guys out for dinner. Is ten minutes enough to be ready?”
I point out the Tourist office, as we pass it, entering Zarcero. I point out the banks, and the grocery store, as we head northbound along the main street.
The car sounds wrong. It doesn’t have very much power.
It’s not too busy at Rancho Ceci. The food comes fast. Everyone enjoys.
Minor lingers at the table, speaking English while Mick tries his Spanish. <<You have a very beautiful country.>>
“Thank you. I wish to visit Canada.”
“It is very nice here. We don’t have this.”
“I could get work, as a waiter and maybe work my way up?”
<<I love it here, in this country. The weather is so good.>>
“You have much cold.”
“Freezing, muy frio. Muy frio.” He wraps his arms around himself and mock shivers.
I can see the effect on Minor, he shrinks.
<<¿You don’t like the cold, do you Minor?>>
He looks at me as if slapped across the face, “no mucho gusto.” He shakes his head resignedly.
<<You get used to it. You have to wear the right clothes, and plan to take a little bit longer getting around. It’s not so bad. But, I love the weather here.>>
<<¿Could you bring me the bill?>>
* * *
I pull into a parking spot along the main street, in Zarcero. I remind them of where the grocery store and liquor stores are located. I point out the taxi stand at the south end of the park, at the only traffic lights.
Mick comes with me to Carlos’ garage. We leave the car there, and walk back down into town. We get beers at the Zarcero Restaurant then get a taxi to Palmira.
Everyone is in a party mood; we go with it.
Mick passes out on the couch after midnight. Karina and I drag him down the hall, and push him onto the bed, where his family snores.
“Let’s take a walk.”
“Okay. It could be cool out…”
“I had a smoke, five minutes ago. It’s beautiful out.”
I roll a joint and grab a light jacket. As I cross the living room, I reach over the couch and take the half-full bottle of red. “Ready.”
We walk out, into the blackness. I can’t see the moon. “Let’s go slow; this is my first time.”
She giggles, “how could you not have?”
“It’s been raining since I got here.”
Down on the soccer field Karina takes her shoes off and trots around in her bare feet, groaning with pleasure. I sit down and lie back. I have a leaden drunkenness upon me. The sound of happiness alone, is pleasing to me. I open my eyes. The sky is filled with stars. Giggling, she falls into me, and lies beside, catching her breath.
“Ah, it’s so nice out.”
“This has got to be the best it’s been since I got here. It’s been cool, if not cold, and rainy.”
“It’s been so rainy, wah.”
She giggles more. I hand her the bottle, and she sips a mouthful. She hands the bottle back to me.
I try to take a sip of wine, but pour it all over my face, and up my nose. I bolt upright, blowing it out. She laughs, “you definitely need more wine. Drink up.” She sits upright in a fit of laughter. I see her grinning. I pour back a couple of mouthfuls, drag myself up and hold out my hand.
I pull her up. We walk westward.
“Where are we going?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been there before.”
“It’s about time.”
When the clouds block the moon, it’s difficult to see. The road becomes a path, which I try to follow. It bends to the right, northerly, then ascends steeply through a dense woods. I’m trying to get up to an unobstructed view of the coast.
Karina is huffing up the hill behind me. I take her hand and pull her. As we near the crest, it’s difficult to discern any path at all. Finally, we push over the top.
There’s a ledge four feet down, then a steep grassy hill. I climb down to the ledge. The grass on it is soft.
The wind blows a chill onto me. We’re sitting, backs against the short bluff. She takes out a cigarette, but can’t light it in the wind. I take out the little blow-torch and spark her cigarette and the joint I brought.
“You should quit that shit, smoking.”
“What are you doing?”
“This? I take great benefit from. I know about potential costs. But it’s not an optimized delivery system for addictive drugs, so that some mega-corporation can attain their profit-maximizing objectives.”
I nod to her, offering it.
“When I’m ready.” She takes a drag on the cigarettes, looking at me, considering.
I hold up the bottle in deference, a peace offering to show no hard feelings; I throw back a large gulp. I hand the bottle to her. She nods slightly, and does the same. I take another drag, and pass the joint to her.
I point down, “Gulf of Nicoya.”
Below, I can see the black of the land side of the shoreline. The peninsula is a black space between water, silver-white from the light of the moon reflecting off of it.
“I love it, here. I’m glad you came down, and brought me here.”
She hands me the joint. “You’re welcome.”
We finish the wine. I can hardly keep my eyes open. “Ah… I’m really busted.”
“So am I.”
We climb back up, and over the little ridge and drift down the hill. I can hardly keep my eyes open. We trudge up to the gate; I can see the sky in the east is lightening. The sun will be coming up soon. I’d like to see the rise, but I’m too tired to wait.
I drop Karina on the little couch in the television nook. She lays there unmoving. I throw a heavy blanket on her, then stumble down the hall on to my bed. I can hear Mick snoring.
* * *
Bright light pours in the window. I get up, pull shorts over my long johns, and walk out to the living room. Karina lies in the same position I left her in. I hear snoring. I looked around. The door to the other bedroom is open. I can see Mick in there, alone.
I make espresso and toast. I slather a thick slab of the hard butter on the hot toast, and add a large hunk of peanut butter.
I know that one will not be enough. I start making the second, with half the first yet in the cup. I hear groans from down the hall. There are moving around noises. Now I hear an echo of the sound of pissing, from the standing position.
Mick wanders into the living room and sits down on the couch.
“How yuh feelin’?”
“I tell yuh after one of those.”
I make him one in the style he prefers, adding a little brandy, instead of hot cream. “Here yuh go.”
He walks into the kitchen and takes the cup from my hand. He drinks a mouthful and nods, finishes it off, and places the cup down, next to the burner.
He points for another and burns his fingers flipping the bread, toasting over the burner.
I hold up the rolled joint. “You?”
“No sais, hombre.”
I put the soundtrack for “The Mission”, into the CD player, and adjust the volume, recalling many a hung-over morning, gently coming to consciousness at Mick’s farmhouse, hearing the same. I walk to the side patio, at a spot obscured from all angles to the smaller house.
The wind swirls, but mostly to the east, away from the smaller house. The smoke billows up in the air, comically, like a smoke signal; it’s so apparent, like the parody of a worst case scenario of indiscretion. I take some more and hold it in. I hand it to Mick trying not to laugh the smoke out; how could this little thing make so much smoke in the air!? He looks at me questioningly. I hold my arms up at the billowing smoke, as I release it, “as it just so happens, we are standing here.” I laugh some more.
I hear Karina moaning, somewhere inside. I go in and make another coffee, and take it to her. She’s partially propped up. “Wait! I need a cigarette.”
We walk out front, into the bright sunshine. “¡Que bueno! Gracias, hombre.”
Alex and Boston come through the gate. “Great pueblo!”
“What’s great about it?”
“We walked all around; it’s beautiful. Boston played in the school yard with other children. I love it here. We made some friends, I told them to ‘come on over’. They all know who you are.”
“Oh yeah,” she nods knowingly, “everybody knows about you in the casa.”
“I be damned.”
“You’re a celebrity.”
“Well, if you were a celebrity, and you didn’t like people bothering you, this will be a good place to come to.”
* * *
We walk out and down the big hill, towards Zarcero. Karina carries Boston on her back. The sun is shines very brightly. The view over the town of Zarcero is stunning; I’ve seen it before, but, there is something…?, maybe this light, this green below! It’s looks like a toy town, far below, but the air is so clear, I can see such fine detail.
We eat at Willy’s.
After the brunch, we go into the park.
Boston approaches three small girls, of similar size. They communicate with occasional words in the other’s language, and many gestures. Soon, they play like anywhere else, the need for words, gone.
Karina has joined a small group of young Spanish speaking people, and comes over to invite me to join her with them at the bar, in Zarcero Restaurant.
“I have to get the car. When I get back.” I nod.
Carlos assures me that the car is fixed! He tells me that he <<worked a miracle>>. I’m happy to hear the confidence in his voice.
I drive down the steep hill to the only traffic lights in town, now left, and over to the bank. It seems okay. I park it, go in and get some money, grab some groceries. I drive back, left at the park, and stop in an open spot past the tourist office.
The day is drifting by, effortlessly. The sun is sinking. How could it be that late?
I’m hungry again, and thirsty. I look around the park; I can’t see any of my friends.
Daniello, the senior, walks by. He pauses to tell me he’s still waiting for me to come by the bar for a drink, <<I’m going there now. ¿Why don’t you come by for a drink?>>
He goes, narrowly avoiding a collision around a hedge. I see it was Mick, Alex and Boston he almost collided with. Boston has an ice cream cone.
They join me. All three are relaxed and pink. The low sun comes across the park, lighting flying insects above the animal-shaped hedges. I watch them flitter by to the sound of children playing. Boston finishes her ice cream and goes to join the children in the playground. Alex looks at Mick, “We should maybe get a move on for home?”
Mick talks about how nice it is, here.
I feel as at home and relaxed as I have since before I left Toronto.
We walk into Restaurant Zarcero. Karina leads a small concert with ukulele. Boston runs to Karina, and watches her attentively.
They finish the number, and Karina gets a jembe, and shows Boston how to hold it, and play it.
Mick and Alex leave to get groceries.
The band plays on.
Carlos, the mechanic, and one of his guys, Luis, walk in. They take a table next to us. Two beers arrive. I hand over the two Bavarias that have arrived at my table, and order two more.
Carlos rants about the design of American cars, and especially the baffling uselessness of the emission control system.
Karina comes over, carrying the squealing Boston, upside down, in her arms.
Mick and Alex return loaded with grocery bags.
I leave cash on the table; we go.
We stow the ukulele and groceries in the car.
Mick wants to take a look at the booze store; so we leave the women in the park, and walk the half-block to the booze store. Mick stocks up.
I can see Tanya talking to Alex at the park. The light is fading on the idyllic setting of the park. The air is warm and soft, the happy shrieks of children playing, are winding down.
“Hello, y’all. Hey Bubba! I found your friends.”
We all drive back to the casa. The blazing orange bounces along the Gulf of Nicoya.
Alex and Boston go out for a walk.
Tanya takes a Cuba Libre, from the two I’ve made. Mick slurps a beer and talks about what he is going to cook, then how he is going to cook it… until he reaches a problem, he takes drink, and revises the menu, then speaks, about how clever an adaptation the new plan is.
I roll a fatty. We smoke it on the south patio. Mick starts on the food. Tanya, Karina and I take turns selecting the music, then leading the crazy dancing to the eclectic selections.
Alex and Boston enter. Its pitch black outside, but it’s warm and comfortable. A young girl and two young women enter with them.
Tanya greets them. Boston has met Margarita in the playground of the small primary school, down the lane. They’ve become fast friends. Adelith is Margarita’s sister. They are accompanied by their cousin, the dark and quiet Elizabeth.
Adelith, who looks about twenty, behaves like a pubescent teen. Elizabeth doesn’t say too much. I’m attracted to her. I can feel blood pumping around my body. I can’t stop thinking about getting together with her. But it’s nothing I can’t work around.
They are students of Tanya. She tells me that both Adelith and Margarita were born in Palmira; Elizabeth is said to be from Fortuna. But, by the way she tells it, I think she could be from further north than that.
Alex and Boston take Margarita home. Adelith and Elizabeth stay with the party, now kindling along.
Adelith asks whether or not I’d taken my guests to the Palmira waterfall; she says it’s a forty-minute hike to get there.
Everyone likes the idea of hiking to the waterfalls the next day, Sunday. Unfortunately, Tanya has some work to do. She suggests Adelith and Elizabeth as guides. They accept.
Food is announced. Mick has prepared a huge feast. I’d lost track of it; it feels like midnight.
We eat, and drink, and smoke, listening to the stereo, and dancing to the tunes.
Several hours later, by midnight, everybody is mellowed out, or passed out. I stagger to my bed.
* * *
Tanya wakes me up. After a while, I get up and make espresso.
Mick wanders by, drawn by the smell of the brew. I make another for him and tell him that I’m driving Tanya into Zarcero. He asks to join us.
We cruise by the church. It’s busy; I remember that it’s Sunday. We park near the tourist office. Tanya goes her way.
The office is open. We go inside. Tom is there. He greets us warmly and says that it’s time for breakfast. Jerry walks in; Tom introduces Mick.
We take breakfast at Tom’s favourite place, just south of the park, on the east side of the street. Mick and Tom carry on about how great Costa Rica is.
Tom takes shots at the usual tico habits he dislikes. But, I’ve not heard him so bitter about it, before. It was always been more like a joke.
The cynical bitterness of it grates on me! I lie low, not wanting to cause conflict.
I want to leave. I see a pattern, expectations about how a corporation delivers service will not be met here. The influence of corporations is still less here than in North America. The delivery of stuff and services, though delivered in a reasonably systematic way, seems more… human, in its imperfection. I’m appreciating this human element more and more, in my to day to day interactions. It’s the imperfection that acts as the grain of sand to create the pearls. It’s so much more entertaining then a bank machine.
The corporations, driven by their obsessive pursuit of maximizing profit, wring all the non-essential aspects out of their processes. There is no sand to create pearls in it.
I want to explain it to Tom. But I suspect that he won’t get it, again; so I want to get away from it.
Done, finally, we leave Tom at the tourist office.
Standing in the sun, in the park, I feel my back loosening up. We take a cab back to the casa.
Adelith and Elizabeth lounge with Alex in the yard. Five young children run around, yelling and screaming, in the garden.
I go in and pack for the walk.
We start off, walking up the long, steep hill. Ten minutes past the crest of the hill, I see the single strand of rusty barbed wire, strung between two weathered posted on the right-hand side of the uneven gravel. Adelith leads us past the ‘gate’ onto a broad path of healthy green grass, fringed with lavender, leading down a series of switchbacks.
The cows look at us from the far side of the electrified fencing at the bottom of the valley. We walk a small, but well paved road, across a heavy stone bridge. A small but vigorous river pours through, below.
We walk along the river bank, upstream, over and around trees. I hear the falls as I lead the way along the bank. The sound is pervasive. Everything is green, cows graze, and the river flows. It looks like the Swiss Alps.
Mick goes ahead. Boston swings between Adelith and Elizabeth. Alex walks near by and talks with Adelith, asking about womens’ rights in Costa Rica. I drop to the back since Mick has moved to point. Karina moves through the group with her video camera on, and occasionally snapping stills with another camera.
The path moves away from the river. The going is easier. On the far bank, the hill rises very steeply; mountain goats graze idly. The sound of the waterfall continues to grow louder. The valley narrows on our side of the river.
We walk past a group of tico youth, boys and girls in their later teens; they’re leaving. Past them, we encounter fresh garbage, shards from shattered glass bottles, and a small puddle of puke. I hear heaving, and I see a girl still puking in the bushes, just off the path.
But past another tree, I see the falls! It comes straight down from over two hundred feet up. Mist blots out the sun. The air is cool.
I try to climb up the cliff wall, adjacent to the falls, to see if there is a way behind them. But my naked feet are freezing and I can’t keep my footing in the slimy rocks. I climb back down carefully, and lie down on the warm rocks that everybody else has settled on, just down stream.
Mick has opened a bottle of red wine. I take some and try to warm in the hazed sun.
Alex, Adelith and Elizabeth have moved further down stream from the falls, out of the mist shroud, and are laying out the picnic. We walk down and join them. I tie a line to the two six-packs of beer and place them in the river current near the bank. The large flat, level red granite, upon which the picnic lunch is set reminds me of home, in the Canadian Shield, especially with the sound of water ringing in my ears.
On the far shore, three goats have descended all the way to the little bit of level ground, just above the banks of the river. I look for a path to get behind them. Several geese come over inquisitively. The lone male in the group sounds off. Elizabeth brings me a sweet. She sits across from me. I look at her. Relaxed, almost challengingly, she returns my gaze.
Karina calls over, waving the espresso maker.
“I’d love some.”
“Why don’t yah come over and make some?”
Mick has sparked up the little burner. I make coffee until were out of it. Mick and I take a walk downstream, and smoke a fat joint.
We return, and I remember, with joy, that I’ve brought beer. I reel-in the six packs from the river, and pull off one for each of us.
“Dean, this whole trip would be worth it, just for this alone.” He nods. “Thanks for having us.”
My trip would be worth it for this moment, in this place which seems almost too idyllic to be real!
I get two more beers from the ice-cold river.
I’m stoned enjoying each moment, every sensation, and the positive vibrations from my friends.
The sun beams down through a thin part of the vapour veil. I feel my skin heat to hot abruptly. The green predominating the landscape now glows with an intensity, muting its previous incarnation.
“It’s pretty cold. But I’m going to go for a dive.”
We all walk down towards the fall basin. I climb along the boulders down to the water’s edge and strip down to the minimum. I draw a lung full of air and dive out far as I can. It’s a shock. But after a moment, while I still notice how very cold it is, it’s not unpleasant, nor do I feel threatened by it. I feel hyper-awake, swimming vigorously under the surface. I pull with my arms together, upward, and breach to my waist.
It’s difficult to see the origin of the fall, above its shrouded in mist. The pool is almost circular, surrounded by soft grass, except the very edge, a lip of rocks rings the pool. I dive under and swim down; no gradients here, it’s all cold. I look up and see where the water comes smashing in, I swim there and emerge into the pounding fall.
I wave. Boston is shrieking, jumping up and down, pointing at me. I wonder if there is a problem? I wave. She’s smiling. She waves back, pulling on Alex’s shirt.
“Hey Baby!” I yell to her, “don’t hurt yourself, alright?” I dive under and swim around beneath where the fall strikes; I’m buffeted by it, pleasingly so. I come up just behind the fall and catch a breath. My exhale shows like steam. It is nice to be here, relaxed, in no hurry to be off to the next place.
* * *
I watch the sun rise, looking east, across the small puebla.
Within an hour, everybody has awaken, emerged, breakfasted and readied. We load up and start driving, north on the main highway, towards San Carlos de Quesada.
After a while, we roll into a pueblo called Aguas Zarcas. I must have made a wrong turn, somewhere. Oh well. It doesn’t seem so bad. I pull into a parking spot at the biggest intersection in town.
We walk to a tiny café, and order. Breakfast at the casa had been slight. The food is good, and I feel much better, even before I finish.
I’d never heard of this town before. It’s like a town from an old western movie. The main intersection is broad, but few cars pass through it. The kids are out from school. Younger ones stream by, on their way home for lunch. Older ones, in their teens, cluster, and stroll, some with food in hand. A group stares at us, from the side of the road. I ask directions waving my map, in hand. Everyone is friendly and helpful, though no two sets of directions are the same.
We pull out of town. I am invigorated and relaxed. I navigate a zigzagging pattern in the general direction that we need to go.
I see a sign indicating ‘Fortuna’. I keep going that way. I follow the signs.
A thick fog hangs in the air, in Fortuna. We continue through town, in the direction of the volcáno. It can’t be seen from the road, the clouds are so low; but we pass a sign indicating that it is off to the left of the highway.
I continue along the highway, until it hits the shore of Lake Arenal, on the north shore, at the southeast corner of the lake. There is a large parking lot, with no cars in it. I pull into it.
Mick goes one way, and Karina another. Boston and Alex walk off together. I take a beer from the cooler, and roll a fat joint on the hood of the car. I secure the car and then lock it. I place the key on top of the front passenger-side tire, as arranged in advance.
I walk south, along the shore. This is a rainforest; it has a rich musky smell, full of minerals.
To the right I see a huge intake drain, forty feet across. The forest rises steeply to the south. The lake is calm. The sky covers the spectrum of grey.
I return to the car after half and hour. Everyone is there.
We drive back the way we came, towards Fortuna. Mick has been looking through a travel book, and suggests a resort. I see the sign, just as he’s reading it, so slow and pull off, onto the access road. We stop and get out at a small complex of administrative-looking buildings. The map in the office shows extensive grounds, including a drive-in camp site. There is a trail from there to the lava wall.
The road is little more than a trail, but we make it up and over a ridge, and descend through trees into a clearing. Several parking lots of black gravel are spread out. Mick points over to some cabins, and I park close to them. There is a small lake opposite the cabins. I can only see one other car in the extensive parking area.
The flora reminds me of home. One deciduous tree variety, dominates. They are shedding their yellow, pointed oval leaves, en masse; they float in puddles, and on the small lake. It seems like an impossibly warm and muggy autumn day in southern Ontario.
It’s dark for midday; the overcast is impenetrable. Despite the strangeness, I feel tranquil. The cabinas are modest. I’d like to stay here, especially if no one else was here, like it is now.
We stash anything that looks valuable, out of sight, in the car, and then start along the path.
The canopy blocks all view of the grey sky. After twenty minutes, Karina carries Boston on her back. The black ground is damp, but not often muddy. Further along, we reach a deep trench; it is 150 feet long. At the far side there is a steep climb up and onto the lava field.
The volcanic rock is rough, and uneven. We climb.
After the time in the canopy, it takes me a moment to adjust to the expansive view of the valley. The foreground is sharp wet green, sweeping down and becoming increasingly grey. Towards the volcáno is an opaque wall of pale grey. Maybe there is no volcáno there after all. Regularly, crashing can be heard beyond the fog wall. I imagine huge chunks of freshly hardening rock, breaking off and succumbing to gravity.
“Not much to see.”
“Actually Mick, the only time I’ve ever seen it, this close, anyways, was at night time. Sometimes it clears in the evening, and you could see the volcáno from the glow of a network of lava streams. The rim glowed most brightly. Did I ever tell you that story, the one with the girl from Quebec?”
He waves it off. He takes two tin cups from his bag, and a bottle of guaro. He pours. We clank cups and drink. “When we’re ready, we can go back to the swimming pools at the entrance and Boston can swim around; there’s a water slide, I think.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Mick leads Alex and Boston off of the lava wall. Karina and I malinger with the guaro. She takes video and we smoke a joint, before heading back.
The walk down seems so different. I linger on the path, marvelling at plants and animals that I’d not bothered to take heed of before. The smell is rich and musky; another thundering crashing sound comes from above. It feels close. The ground rumbled. My heart is pounding. I feel the air travel in through my mouth, and down into my lungs, and into my blood. I feel it in my veins. I don’t notice that my eyes are closed until I feel Karina take my hand.
* * *
The last light is fading as we pull away from the resort. It starts to rain. After we pass Quesada, the temperature gauge for the engine is way into the red, and the car is losing power.
I try to hide the fact that I’m so stresses out; we finally make it back to Palmira.
* * *
Early in the morning, we pack up the car and pull out to drive to the beach, at Herradura. I haven’t mentioned any concerns about the car to anyone, because there isn’t time to do anything. But right away it starts to run hot. I figure I’ll drive it as light as I can and nurse it through to drop them off in San José, the day after tomorrow, and then the airport the next day. It should be okay. Then I’ll take it back to Carlos.
We pass through the town of Atenas. The engine is really losing power. I think it’s going to stall on me at a bad moment. Approaching a hill that I don’t think I’m going to make, I pull off the road at a level spot. As I slow to a stop, the engine stalls.
Everybody else seems okay. My mind is racing with nightmare scenarios; I’m trapped with this fucking hunk of metal. I feel sick.
Karina is video taping me. I don’t care; what else can happen?
She says to me, “it’s just all part of the journey, Dean. Everyone is chilled, so be cool; we’ll make it.”
I breathe in.
A trucks stops and the driver says “hola.” He has a cell phone and calls for a tow-truck and a taxi.
The tow-truck arrives. The guy is huge, though he looks as if he’s in his teens. Karina and I go in the tow-truck. Mick, Alex, and Boston follow in to a well-used, Korean-build taxi with the luggage.
As the car goes into a shop, I go to a bank and get some cash, enough, I hope, to cover auto repairs. I talk to the chief, and tell him I’ll call from the hotel in Herradura. We pack into the taxi. It’s cramped. But we’re all in.
We descend a long, straight road down the ridge; I can smell the brake pads burning.
From the coastal road, we turn down a road to enter Herradura. I tell him to go right to the beach.
The waves crash over a short, steep brake, onto the black sand.
Mick and I ask at a few hotels, closest to the beach; none are right.
About 50 metres up the road, there is a small grocery store with a snack bar. The woman tells me of a place just a little further away from the beach.
I walk up. The cab follows at my pace. We reach a gravel drive, about a fifty metres from the beach. There is a small cluster of cabinas in a forested grove. The owner is a German guy. He’s a little bit gruff, but it seems to me, as if he says it like it is; I like that. We take two cabinas.
I go running along the beach by last light. The smouldering crimson over the Pacific fades. After twenty minutes running, I pause and look around. The light is completely gone. The stars emerge. I start back along the beach. I slow to a walk as I approach the road and the lit buildings that mark the beachfront of the small puebla. I’m covered in a slick oily sweat. I feel a bit better. By the light of the stars, I notice a woman walking down from the jungle and to the water.
I walk to the spot where a towel lies in the sand.
I take off everything, and walk down and into the surf. It’s calmed, but the waves still roll three feet high on the sharp brake. Karina swims in the calmer swells, outside of the brake.
I can see her smile in the starlight.
“Of course it’s you.”
* * *
The next morning, after breakfasting in the small hotel dining room, I use the office phone to call to find out about the car. The guy tells me that the car is fine. He started it up no problem. I can pick it up whenever I want to.
Hoerst, the owner of the hotel, drives Karina and I into Jaco. It’s very developed, and the surf doesn’t smell very clean. But the beach is broad and runs south of town as far as I can see. Karina swims, while I lie in the sand reading.
We leave and find a café with internet access; I take care of a few administrative necessities, while Karina is otherwise occupied. When we’re done, we get food and beer at a sit-down cafeteria.
We start to get back to Herradura, initially looking for a place to get the bus, but we catch a ride in the back of a pick-up truck. The guy let’s us off at the road into Herradura, and we walk in.
I join Mick sitting out, drinking a beer. In a lowered voice, he says, “Duyuh want one?”
I nod and smile.
“They’re having a nap.” He quietly enters the cabina, returning a moment later with two bottles. “I got them at the store. That store is great! I got a roasted chicken there earlier.”
“How was it?”
“It was good. It cost about two bucks.”
Beads of sweat fall down the fogged surface of the beer bottles. Mick takes out his army knife, and opens the beer. He hands it to me. He opens the other one and knocks his bottle against mine, “I’m glad to be here.”
“Salud. Pura vida.” I look him in the eyes as I pound half of it back. It’s cold and crisp. It won’t stay like that long in this heat.
“What’s yer plan?”
“When they wake up, we’ll probably take a walk, then be ready for some food.”
“Do yah wanna go to the restaurant right down there, at the beach?”
“Yeah, that’s exactly where I was thinking of going.”
“I’m going to go swimming. I’ll be down there when you get there. No hurry.” I drink the second half of the beer down.
I get a towel at the cabina.
“Whatcha up to?”
“I’m going to go swimming, then Mick and family are going to meet me for dinner at that restaurant on the beach.”
“I’m gonna go with yuh.”
“Okay. How long?”
We stop at the store on the way down to the beach, I buy three beers and roll them in my towel.
We swim and bodysurf in the waves, until dusk. Boston comes over to tell us that they’ve arrived; so we go, drying off walking across the broad black sand to the restaurant.
Everyone is glowing after the meal. I feel tired, but relaxed and happy.
While the others walk back to the cabinas, Mick and I sit on the lightless beach. I can’t see any stars this night. The breeze has picked up. It is nicely cooling after the torrid day.
We smoke a joint and agree to a plan for getting to San José, then walk back to the hotel.
I’m swaying, I get on to the hammock outside the cabina. Mick opens up two beers and hands me one. He sits, but gets up to greet the German, who approaches. Mick hands him his beer, and takes another from inside.
We talk about our plans for San José, in the morning. He’ll get us reservations for the bus by phone, and drive us to the highway with our luggage to meet it. He puts the reservations on his account; so I pay him the cash. I’m glad to have it taken care of, so I won’t worry about it, too much.
* * *
I get up with the light, and walk out with a towel. I lounge in the surf. I breathe in the salty mist that rises from the water, hoping it sucks out all of the poison within me.
Karina joins me swimming.
We walk back to the cabinas; everyone else is already to go. It takes me less than five minutes to cram my stuff into a bag. I toss my bag into Hoerst’s truck.
The bus is on time. Karina and I get out in Atenas. The car starts up right away, no problem.
We meet them at Hotel Aranjuez. Mick is excited. He likes San José. He tells me about their trip from the bus stop to the hotel. He likes the hotel, especially the backyard; “it’s like a rainforest.” He likes the hustle and bustle of the city, and feels confident in the streets.
We walk downtown. Mick, Alex, and Boston head off towards the pedestrian mall. Karina and I sit, watching people go by. They return with Tanya. She’s in town to meet her father, his wife, and Tanya’s grandfather at the airport; they are expected in the early evening.
* * *
After dinner, Tanya and I take a taxi to the airport. AY and Katia, scheduled to arrive about the same time as her father.
The main terminal is under construction. It’s chaotic. Passengers come from the plane straight to a cramped luggage pick-up area, then are immediately ejected out into a parking lot. Tanya’s father is in the parking lot, but they haven’t been able to get their baggage yet.
They’ve staked out a spot to stand, amongst the crowd. Tanya’s stepmother is not happy.
I take a walk around to see if I can find out the arrival status of AY’s flight. Tanya walks with me. The atmosphere is like a bazaar. Some people have been waiting for hours for their luggage.
I can’t figure out anything in the chaos. We go back to the crowded parking lot. She speaks with her father briefly. She takes my hand and she leads me to a pay phone.
“Will you give me the number of the hotel that you are staying at?”
I hand her the card. She smiles to the verge of giggling. I can hear her reserving rooms there.
AY and Katia walk by with their luggage in tow. “Hey!”
“Red, how’s it goin’?”
I hug them both, and introduce Tanya to them.
In the parking lot, her parents are still waiting for their luggage.
Tanya insists that we not wait for them. She’s changed their reservation to Aranjuez.
We get a ‘pirato’, an illegal taxi, to take us to Aranjuez.
They go into their room. Five minutes later, AY emerges.
“I think she’s done for the night. Dude, how’s it going?”
We walk around the neighbourhood and settle on a bar for a few beers. Despite some trouble at home, he’s positive about everything and excited to be in Costa Rica.
* * *
All of us breakfast together at a large table, in the garden.
Karina takes a set of keys for casa gringos; I put her in a cab to the Montalba bus terminal, on Calle 5, between Avenidas 8 and 10 . Boston cries as the cab pulls away.
I help load up the taxi for Mick. He looks rested and positive. Alex holds Boston and kisses me.
I drive AY and Red to a car rental agency in Alajuela. They follow me to Palmira.
It’s sunny and hot. I take AY out to give him a quick look around the town, while Red freshens up. We’re back in fifteen minutes after the tour around town. Red sits on the patio, with a drink in hand, next to a half-bottle of vodka. I get a couple beers and we join her. AY asks Red if she wants to go for a hike in the hills. She’s vaguely non-committal on the hiking idea. As the conversation continues, Red starts listing; so she goes in to lie down.
AY and I drive towards Zarcero, so he can get some money at the bank.
On the way back up the mountain, we stop at a spot overlooking Zarcero, far below in the sun. I crack two beers and sit on the edge of modest drop. AY sits down beside me. Our legs hanging over the little drop.
“Man, this is great! How long have you been living here?”
“A couple months, but it’s been mostly raining and cold, until recently.”
“How cold does it get here?”
“Well, it’s great to be here now! Thanks for showing me around and talking me into coming here.”
“I’m glad you’re here, dude. Too bad about Red.”
“She’s stressed out at work. She likes the dentistry part of it; she loves that stuff. But the business side of it… She just can’t seem to stay on top of it. It was a real mess. I helped her out a bit.”
“It’s better now, but I can’t run it for her, and she can’t seem to do it by herself.”
We finish the beer and continue back to Palmira. I park the car. AY goes in, while I close the gate. I can’t help but notice how incredibly clear the air is, and how bright it is.
I walk in; he’s coming out of the bed room.
“She’s still breathing,” he says with a wry grin.
“So she won’t be joining us?”
We walk up the road to start off our hike.
We reach a spot and I can see Volcáno Arenal. “Look!” I point. “A guy told me that you could see the volcáno from here, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. Wow!”
“Dude, that is awesome.”
“Is that where you’re going go?”
“That’s the plan. Katia wants to stop at the cloud forest; so, I’ll probably make a reservation for a hotel there. I found one on the internet; I just have to call.”
I nod, “that’d be good.”
* * *
Red is bright-eyed in the morning. We drive into Zarcero in their rented 4X4 and get breakfast.
I ask them to try to stop in Montalba, if they get a chance. They hug, then go.
I walk home. It’s so different from when I first got here. It seem like a long time ago.
I hang out on the concrete deck, reading the book, drinking coffee and beer, smoking when I feel like it. It’s beautiful everywhere. I should pack up my stuff and get a move on, but I can’t bring myself to do anything but enjoy it.