sat. dec. 16 2000.
mambos at la cocina with the family and nancy, a new portable mp3 player toy, we spend most of the day pottering about the house. niyamat makes killer banana milkshakes and speedy chicken, ma is beginning to transcend kakori levels with her seekh kababs. sun. attend an art gallery party of one of nancy hairston's friends. mom already knew more people there than arjun, niyamat and me put together. great hors d'ouvres, the art is pretty good too, i suppose. nancy says art is prettier than money. just make it to the airport in time only to be offloaded for 600 bucks and an upgrade to first class on mondays flight to costa rica.
mon. work in the morning, drive to a foundry that will be casting one of ma's sculptures. its fascinating watching the whole casting process up close. barely time for a bite and am at the airport again. once again people are being offloaded. ...one could earn a respectable living as a professional volunteer it seems. three hours and as many bloody mary's later we are in costa rica. i can really get into this "may i dab that bit of brown sauce on your lower lip, mr. sign", first class treatment. she hovers around you like a groupie, calls you by your name, even though its not really your name. am out earlier than i expect and then thoroughly enjoy the pager sized mp3 player while i wait for carl and flory outside. its great watching the mental turmoil writ large on the faces of the cabbies and touts as they decide whether to toss me in the tico or foreigner bucket of their psyche. "estoy bien, gracias", i brush off the few that do approach. in time carl and flory show up in a shiny new rav4. stay up shooting the shit with carl for a few hours before we both drift off.
tues. are off early to the volcanic area around arenal. the rav4 and a little daihatsu terio rental. carl drives the new car with flory, kai and his mom, i helmet behind in the rental with the schuyler sisters tami, who i know from santa cruz and leslie who i meet for the first time. driving in costa rica is somewhere between india and the united states on roads that range from fine 4 lane highways to pothole gravel four by four nightmares, often as parts of the same road. we stop in sarcero for lunch at a little taqueria. have some tacitos and a kas refresco. there is a cool church here with giant topiary sculptures on the lawns. ride with carl and leslie after lunch and my spanish lessons through absurdist word association begin. "curvaceous redheads" i translate, off a road sign that says "curvas peligrosas". after all peligrojas are more than often peligrosa (dangerous)... i read every sign like rain-man on speed. we listen to novellas on the radio and then christmas carols. leslie and i will be singing "navidad, navidad. linda navidad" for the rest of the trip. "bingle gels, bingle gels, bingle all the way, curvas peligrosas, pero linda navidad". arenal is about a 4 hour drive from san jose and we are there shortly. arenal has the perfect funnel cake volcano shape. all that is missing is the chocolate sauce lava pouring out the top. carl is already whetting appetites with talk of the best carne in town at vacamuca, the one horned cow. we check in at montana del fuego... the schuylers and i drive off road on one of the trails, wade through knee deep water of one of the volcanic streams. the clouds all but completely obscure the volcano by the evening. a great meal at vacamuca with much imperial goes down easy. its too late to go soak in the hot springs so we go hang out at the pool/hottub at the cabins. the water is not very hot and then it comes down pouring like someone wanted to extinguish arenal forever... a nica tending the pool bar brings us illegal pina coladas for a propina. he looks like forrest whittaker and brings us our drinks in ones and twos under a big umbrella. later on there is just carl and me and then these 5 gringa granola girls join us. they tell us about this huge waterfall that you can jump off the top in montezuma. carl wants to go... only time would tell if we make it that far. back in our cabin, leslie and tami are busy devouring their respective books. sitting outside mindlessly, watching the rain with the knowledge and tangible sense of the existance of a volcano somewhere beyond the blackness i cant help but feel a bit illiterate. instead i try and follow trajectories of raindrops.
wed. the next morning we have to leave early for san jose to drop carl's mother at the airport. stop for a bit in san ramon along the way. head home, launder, repack and we are off again, backtracking to the cloud forest of monteverde. there is a little cervezeria off the highway that acts as the only landmark to an inconspicuous back road from where we drive for a couple of bone rearranging hours on 5mph offroad track in complete darkness. the little daihatsu is screaming bloody mercy as i try to keep up with carl in his toyota and tami is carsick. then all of a sudden there is civilization. we check into the family run villa valverde with the restaurant don miguel just in front. have a half decent italian dinner at johnny's pizzeria. the cloud forest is loud. i have a bunk up in the attic. the rain comes down on the tin roof inches above my head, kai is fighting the flu down below, something is howling outside.
trek about the monteverde national park. see some whitefaced monkeys and colourful birds. a variety of hummingbirds like i have not seen before. carl has this story of this vietnam vet who builds houses down here who claims the land around here where there are no birds is cheap. not out of some ornithologistic philosophy but because they sense the volcanic gases creeping out the ground around there. maybe he still senses the vietcong seeping out the ground man, we'll fight them in the trenches. there certainly are a lot of guns
around san jose. carl and i walk into this shiny manly mall shop called el trabuco with all kinds of weapons one day. ...and many san jose houses are like little gated reverse prisons, with armed guards to keep their inmates safe from the world outside. anyway, after hiking up to this mirador from where you can see both the pacific and atlantic simultaneuously we head back over this excitingly rickety suspension bridge. have a snack at the sapo dorado which is also an art gallery. head to another park type place to see animales but its closed. back at the lodge, carl and i head into the little town of st. helena and to this little watering hole fittingly called dos amigos. its a local roughneck hangout, mostly people hanging around the counter, a couple of broken down tables with a bunch of wasted gringos. a drunk old tica in the corner is probably the only woman in the bar barring two foreign women that nurse beers at a table while poring over guide books. then a tico hops off the bar counter and drops to the floor. he manages one and a half push ups. soon after someone sends glass crashing to the floor ending the evenings calisthenics. carl and i go through a few
bavarias, a darker stronger version of the local beer imperial. we talk about alex. alex in atlanta... and brussels. always brussels. the gringos from the table next to us totter out but the ticos party on...
between the lack of a lisp and the invasion of hollywood,
between the cracks of an emerging economy and day old natilla,
the spanish here is pure,
and between the cracks, people are proud.
somewhere in the patriotic dust of the lesser used wine glasses that dangle overhead,
somewhere in the toothless unmitigated laugh, of the tica with yesterday's eyes.
the spanish here is pure, pura vida.
we head to the lodge and then back again to a little taqueria with tami and leslie for dinner. we stop in briefly at the bar next to don miguels on the way back but its mostly crowded with tourists. i fall asleep on the rocking chair outside listening to the sounds of nature's orchestra.
fri. we get an early start. today is cables morning, skytrek time. 30$ for a couple of hours zipping a few hundred feet over the cloud forest attached to a simple pulley sliding along cables. the guide gustavo is great. speaks good english and spanish, makes cute well practised jokes. the crew know carl from a similar expedition a few weeks back but chat at him like they have been buddies for years. there is a nice little hike up a spiral stairway over a few suspension bridges. we see an interesting turkey type bird pava negra. tica for turkey is a rather evocative word "chompipe", the very enunciation of which makes you want to chow down on it and wash it down with some "ronpope" or eggnog which is common enough around this time of year. the first cable is a real rush. all in all we go over about 10. after the first few i start to look around and enjoy the ride, focussing less and less on the mode of transport. there are all kinds of bodysurfing and pulley twisting tricks you can employ to vary ones speed. carl takes one of the stopping crew out like a skittle on one of the cables. the big thrills are a cable that passes coyotesquely close to a tree and then the mother of cables, 1400 ft. long, 400 ft. above the cloud forest, that we climb a tower to get to. the winds are gusty, its rainy, clouds obscure all but the initial part of the cable. most of us get stuck on it towards the end and have to monkey cable to the platform on the other side. its over way too soon. have another italian meal for lunch and then head out towards manuel antonio. hit the coast at puntarenas and then drive down along it. around dusk we get past jaco and a river bank full of ginormous cocodrilos. by nightfall we are in quepos and then in manuel antonio at the something espadilla where flory has frequent flyer miles. hang out in the pool and go walkabout later on. i find a pager sized frog for leslie which is both slimy to hold and cute to behold, at it looks up at the fingers clamping its torso with its big froggy eyes. cant seem to convince leslie to kiss it, so its a frogs life for that froggy.
sat. spend the morning at the calm beach within the national park. head back via the waves beach and then over some rocks to the main beach averting the eyes of the guard watching the gate. much more fun to swim to the calm beach than through the paid entry point. get helmeted with pina coladas and cervezas back at the hotel by the pool in the afternoon. get a live music tip for a place in curridabat, antares, from diego, a landfilling fortunehunter from l.a. in the evening carl and i head up the hill to this trolley bar that had music and a big fire going as we were driving in the night before. 'the jungle boys' are a rocking nica band with three guys none of whom appear nicaraguan. the keyboard player looks very south american, the bassman very mexican, a stocky replica of pablito from tintin and the picaros and the leadman is a rasta dude. as a band they are great!! around 8 we drop a little something in their pot and head back to this huge lobster seadfood and wine platter dinner. carl and i take shifts with kai in the room while the girls indulge. the sun and surf has given the troops a bit of a beating, so i take the rental and fire back up the hill alone. the guys who work at the trolley place are having a party further up the hill at the airplane place... a big old world war two bomber dropped by the side of the road on the gravel with its nose almost sticking out onto the road, the interior gutted and lined with shelves and bar stools on either side and a big open space outside with umbrellas and giant cane furniture. i order a pina colada, the waitress trips releasing four beers. half makes its way onto my tshirt, two and a half surrender to gravity and one beer reflexively grabs onto my hand a foot from the ground. she lets me keep it. most of these guys live in quepos and work here, many are leaving tommorrow for christmas with families anywhere from panama to guatemala... whenever tomorrow comes. a bomber plane, a candle flame, a pina colada, la espada, and manuel antonio. ...they like to dance, in circumstance. drive back to the main beach. its deserted barring a few spotted tents among the remnants of the day.
sun. morning by the pool. the columbiana barlady brings me many glasses of water while leslie and i wait for the rest. the columbiana that diego was chatting up the day before. the columbiana that could probably carry her tray around in front of her quite easily, without the use of her hands. she is from cali, she lives in quepos. we check out and head back to san jose for christmas eve festivities. stop along the way at fiesta del mais for some good fatty chicharron and mango refrescos. the fiesta at the gonzalez household in gauadalupe is even better. the matriach, the siblings... sister nani, hubby leo, a tico who looks seriously irish with freckles and flaming red hair, their many kids... alfred e. neuman nando, karolina, daniel, alejandrito, jorge. sister mayra, hubby rolando the dancer and their daughters jessica and jaqueline con tantas curvas. sister yaera and hubby memo the chef and kids diego and christian. brother jose the used car salesman and wife and daughter rebecca, brother manuel and wife gabriela and their kids manuel and gabriela. sylvia, ricardo and ronald from the oldest sister and their familias. ...and dog tamarra marie. lots of names to remember but its surprisingly easy. lots of fatty deep fried pork, chicarron and its even fattier counterpart vigoron is snarfed. ron con coca and a few cervezas and its instant spanish. "como lei how are you" and "pura vida maje" are good phrases to know. my salsa dancing skills will come once i trade in my duplicate left foot for a right one.
mon. the morning is spent doing damage control for the previous night. i spend the afternoon soaking in the incredible diversity of sound that carl experienced in europe and was quick to subsequently acquire through his amazon account and some CD holes in brussels and prague. for the present i mostly take stock... i have bought carl a vladimir vissotski tape that a stewardess from an air canada flight mailed me from montreal. he has already managed to scrounge two CDs, that we were both looking for, le monument and a russian print #15. ...and this guy adam torok from budapest that plays jazz with a distinct semblance to ian anderson. carl does a christmas dinner, right down to sowing stuffing into chickens. its fantastic!
26 tues. tami and leslie leave early, early in the morning. i spend the day coding. carl has a great setup for propellorheading. we are back at casa gonzalez late afternoon, for jessica's birthday party and to drop kai off. there is an hombre selling illegal turtle eggs outside in the neighbourhood. we buy a few, then memo, rolando, carl and i do the manly thing and go to the neighbourhood bar for a sip or two... i drive. this neighbourhood bar that rolando knows of is halfway across town. "ahora derecha, ahora izquierda" he directs from the back... then every now and then he shouts "muerto" and i jump a foot into the air letting my foot off the brake and so we go over the speed bump at 40 kmph anyway. finally we get to this 'chicharonnera cuenca' in coronado almost at the base of irasu. rolando knows all the bar ladies. "mas o menos", he grins when asked how well he knows them. we drink a bottle of guaro with ginger ale. then we have another one. and another one. they have a "huevos de tortuga, 100% aphrodisiaco" sign up and so we have one each. the turtle egg comes in a large shot glass, yolk the size of a marble, with tomato juice, lizard sauce, tabasco and lemon. we knock them back and return to the guaro. memo, the chef, says there was something missing in their recipe. its been a couple of hours and the menfolk are in trouble. on the way back we stop at this place where memo has to buy meat. he takes a while so we park and rolando takes us to this karaoke bar where this woman is jarring out notes that could sand down reptilian hide. we have a few imperials. then memo shows up and an ex-colleague of his at the bar buys us another round. we get back to much firepower, but then the festivities continue. its jessica's 21st and there are more tequila shots and then huevos de tortuga this time with the missing ingredient, orange fanta! jaqueline, maneen, carl and a few others walk down to get more booze from the local licor man boris but he is closed. but there is the exotic herb mexican licor with the culo shaped bottle to be polished.
wed. leave fairly early for being as helmeted as we are. we meet flory's friends lourdes and ana christina along the way. carl and i drive right down the zurqui forest on an empty tank, the car rolling down in neutral, running on the fumes of the easy rider soundtrack. we play 'goddamn the pusher man' many times, it keeps the car moving. stop at yet another chicarronera and then its on to limon the big port on the atlantic side. in a city that seems somewhere between spanish and jamaican we make a pit stop at a chinese bar with larger than life posters of chow yun fat and other chinese movie stars. then its on to porto viejo. somewhere short of cahuita we stop at edith's chicken shack, which has obviously seen much revision in decor and prices since it got mentioned in the guide books as an unpretentious off the beaten path jerk chicken place that will set you ablaze. not quite. the lonely planet has certainly left its mark on the lonely planet and its not quite as lonely anymore. before long we drive through surferville porto viejo, and then punta uva and manzanillo where we are staying at the almonds and corals, a rustic retreat that lourdes worked at about a year ago. she has it all set up, she knows the entire staff, we get two great big tent type cabins, canvas and netting stretched around wood frames on stilts in the middle of forestation. wooden floor, curtains seperate the bedrooms from the toilet and moulded plastic shower stall. the beach is a minute's walk away with a big open dining space along the way. make a fire on the beach aided by the kerosene from the hotel oil lamps and play cards, corazones, espadas and some other stuff till late.
thurs. the howling monkeys, mono congo, wake us up at 5. there are a lot of them around. also sloths or "perisosos". i am familiar with a few animals in spanish like perisosos and cochinos, having been called the same by flory on occassion. the morning is spent at the beach. the water near almonds and corals is supposed to be dangerous with rip tides so we walk down to playa manzanillo a few hundred meters south along the sand, climbing palm trees and other fun things lost to darwin's theories. lourdes is a crazy one. she finds shells and corals and shouts "cangrejo" as she runs around grabbing at scurrying crabs. she was raised on a farm in guanacaste. ana is the other extreme, she sidesteps the crabs, she reads isabel allende in spanish. at manzanillo lourdes, carl and i go swimming. carl and i swim out to this big old abandoned rasta fishing boat anchored to a buoy with "jah never die" painted on the side, half expecting some guerilla dude to pop up with a machine gun screaming "jah never die, muchacho, but you will". its empty, we board it and hang out on the benches for a while then dive off the sides. we have earned our cervezas. the goilies are working on their respective tans. we get cervezas from one shack and then more from another in the spirit of limited beach cash resources and comparative shopping. its the same 350 colones. head back to almonds and coral for lunch and live music by an interesting combo of banjo, marraccas, congo, wooden crate one string bass, hand claps. they like to sing "mathilda, she take my money and run venezuela". ...three times. then its back to the beach to nap. lourdes takes me walking the other direction to the coral reef at punta uva. clothing is less than optional on this side of the beach and there a few people hanging loose. the tide is still pretty high. we are soaked by the time we reach punta uva, where we spend some time among the corals before heading back. its tea time. after which we head to the beach and fire up marshmallows and rum and yet more chicharron. ...then its dinner time at the lodge. the beach at night is fantastic, no moon but that makes the stars scream out brighter. the waves here are high and hypnotic, what with the rip tides and all. compared to the jungle sounds inside its suprisingly quiet. the waves go about their business in relative silence. the big log crackles as it steams out another wet pocket in the wood. a ear is nibbled at. shoulder is "hombro" in spanish, nose is "nariz". dont quite know how any of it is spelt. its all tuaneez.
fri. kayaking. lourdes gets one of the locals, santiago to take us kayaking on the river. carl and flory, lourdes and me, ana and santiago. the river is more like a gully with about enough water to drown an average mouse. at points in the river we run the risk of wetting ones ankles as we get out to push the ocean kayaks over rocks. but we have bright orange life vests should we need them. for 6 inch deep water its surprisingly hard work and probably because of it. then flory and ana return and four of us take two kayaks from beyond punta uva back to the almonds and coral beach. we paddle a good way out to give the reef a wide berth and then across and back in. coming in is just like surfing, waiting for a good wave to ride that will take you in to land. lourdes and i almost capsize, its one wild ride. stop in tibas at the pupuseria mayra for great pupusas and then to guadalupe to drop lourdes and pick up kai.
sat. propellorhead by day, club by night. we go to antares in curridabat. its closed. lourdes knows this german place KS in guadalupe. its closed. have a few drinks at the jazz cafe in san pedro. yet another place is closed and then carlos y charlies is nixed on account of being teen infested. end up at home watching movies.
31 sun. go shopping with carl for new years eve beverage and foodage. carl is a health hazard behind the bar. its flory's moms birthday as well. lourdes, jorge, carl, flory, kai and me and one baby seat manage to squeeze into a tiny rav4. the gonzalez household is rocking as usual. jose makes his usual brand of jokes that i tune in and out of with my selective understanding of espanol. this rocking song that i dont know the name of by the tico group gandhi is played over and over. familia gonzalez are all great dancers, carl and i are notable exceptions. the new year is counted down with a dj on the radio and there is much hugging and kissing and crying. its 2001. at some point mommy flory drives da boyz carl, karan and kai home.
mon. recovery mode. spend the day playing with kai and pirating CDs some of which i will buy as when i can find them. the find of the trip for me is this album firin' in fouta by baaba maal. the first track, sidiki, is like riding a roller coaster on a pogo stick, it bobs up and down like a fractal and can be classified quite simply as infectiously butt wiggling music. the czech opera babylon, francis cabrel's hors saison, a bootleg duane allman disc, xavier naidoo's nicht von dieser welt... make an internet phone call to dallas, start to pack the schuyler household. they have a bought a house on a hill in san antonio de escazu.
tues. flory goes back to work. kai's nanny ileana is back. i work some in the morning. then carl and i pack a little and spend the afternoon at this bar el che up the hill. its lofty's bar, all the resident gringo's go there. lofty is from manchester. there is lee who has a small salchichon stall down the road. they have all been here for yonks. lofty has been here long enough to see one house burn down. many rock ices later we get back, the plan was to drive out to santa rosa late at night but the lack of energy gets us as far as a peruvian restaurant in the neighbourhood where everything on the menu is cient percient aphrodisiaco. its a good half an hour walk back past the costa rican presidents house.
wed. finally go into downtown san jose for the first time. contrary to what i had heard its quite nice actually. we go into a church and couple of other big buildings. have greasy burgers at pio pio, some manzanas del agua, patronise the local crafts some. its all good. the evening is spent watching a ricky martin rockumentary with pizza, making plans for cow swarming la casa nuevo. thurs. fri. on an early plane out. a day in dallas and i am back in san jose, california, the valley of no dolls. ...and i have to learn to speak english all over again.