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« *NOTICE* | Main | Costa Rica, Here I Come. »

A Costa Rican Retrospective

Renee and I got out of Tamarindo right after Christmas and none too soon, as Christmas begins their high season and it gets whiter than a Bennigan's in Osh Kosh during March Madness. Good places don't stay secret from bad people for long.

Coming home is always a drag and we had little desire to be out amongst people for New Years so I traded two hits of E for some mushroom chocolates and let the Three Stooges marathon roll. Didn't like that E sitting around the house. Breaks my rule - Do drugs but never have drugs. It's the having that gets you in trouble.



The shrooms came and went to quickly, enough to remind how great tripping is but not enough to get as far as you'd like. By 11:50 we mustered the courage to go out and giggle at the yay-hoos down at the bar. Hooray for new beginnings that always end the same.

Renee split back to Colorado on New Years Day, leaving me four days to wash my beach clothes before heading back down to Costa Rica and it took me four days to do it.



To get to Zancudo, you fly to San Jose, then catch a single prop on Sansa south to Golfito. There you get a cab to the water taxi stand - like a lemonade stand on the side of the road. The water taxi is a long rotting skiff ( in all honesty, I have no clue what a "skiff" is but I would imagine it's something like this) with a flat roof that goes about 3 miles an hour and makes you feel like Martin Sheen on his way to find Col Kurtz.

I am with the Beckers this time and they have massive roller bags - Mat's is a leopard print - as though we'd ever be anywhere near concrete. Watching them try to roll them across the gravel beach to the boat is hilarious.

The driver is maybe 14 or 25 - it's hard to tell down here and every time you look at a girls ass on the beach, you are unwittingly playing the "Am I A Pedophile?" game - and he speaks no English. He makes a few attempts to communicate but after several "No comprendez" we eventually all shrug and shut up.

We cruise out of the bay and stay a few hundred yards off the shoreline for about half an hour until we hear a grinding and realize that the prop has struck paydirt in the sand bar.

"Ah, fuck" says the driver.

"Comprendez fuck" says I.

The boat starts to turn parallel with the waves slapping water over the side and onto our luggage as he jumps out of the boat to push us out. I motion to ask if he needs help and he nods yes when I was expecting a no so I jump out of the boat with my shoes on and we start pushing back out to deeper water.

He gets in, fires up the motor and cranks it but we don't move. The propeller is fucked, comprendez? There is a second motor in the boat so he drops a makeshift anchor and Mat helps him switch out. In ten minutes we are back to cruising speed which I believe is somewhere faster than walking but not much and soon we are at the public dock at Zancudo with only a vague idea of what we might find.

There is a bar/restaurant at the end of the dock that's closed and not much else. A fat and boisterous American in a golf cart comes by and we ask about taxis. There are no taxis, he tells us. What about golf cart rentals, we ask. He says he rents the golf carts but we wouldn't want one because they are 50 bucks a day and it didn't matter, he'd give us a ride so hop in and he doesn't stop talking until we're driving like mad people down a muddy dirt road, Becky up front and Mat and I standing on the luggage rack on the back, hanging on for our lives.

His name is Dar and he tells us all the places we can eat, sleep or go charter fishing in the friendliest ways but there is never a hint that he doesn't have a financial stake in any of these suggestions. We find out later that the only reason he queered us off renting a golf cart is that he only has the one that he was driving and it didn't have brakes. He also owned the internet cafe - or the building with the internet cafe sign that wasn't really open and didn't really have internet. I guess the idea is to put the sign up for a year and see how many people knock on the door first to see how profitable it would be.

Loaded down with luggage and not having any transportation, we stayed where he took us. Not bad, not great but a place to leave our shit while we found something better.


"It is better to die from drink than to die from thirst."
John Fante
    Brotherhood of the Grape


There is so little to do in Zancudo that it makes you forgot that nothing was exactly what you came here to do. Under these circumstances, I have always found it best to start drinking early. We hit the Sol Y Mar around 3 pm and I'm sure if we could have got a cabina there I would never have come back. Fortunately for Mother and my business manager, they were all booked up.

A dozen or so people were at the bar - white people, yes but the good ones - the ones that belong.

Let me pause to say that, if I come across like I am better than other tourists, it's because I truly want to believe thatI am better, even if I am no different at all. At Christmas in Tamarindo, I would find myself walking behind these dowdy, cornmeal white families - shuffling gape-jawed with hands full of brochures and SPF 3000, rummaging thru every knick-knack and t-shirt as though the only purpose of any vacation was to buy something from somewhere else. I could picture them just shitting like mules while they walked, without so much as a push or a grunt or a blink of acknowledgement. Heavy dry piles just dropping out of them. Consumers consuming as they went.

To think that I was one of them - and I very well may be - would leave me housebound and agoraphobic with shame.

The Sol Y Mar in Zancudo was not like this at all. These were Canadians and hippies and women with hairy armpits and children that didn't even disgust me. They were Brits and a few students from Ashville and they don't surf or wear watches and I need to buy them all a drink. It's the least I can do and - in Zancudo - about the most I can do as well.

A small gong hangs from the end of the bar and it signals they buying of a round. Bang a gong. Get it on.

After a round, it's 50 feet into the ocean that is as warm as the air around it. The beach is empty for miles and scattered with natural debris, an occasional castaway lean-to propped up out of stray branches.

Back to the bar and the girl child - maybe 8 or 9 with wisdom beyond us all in her eyes is giving out tattoos in crayon and I get her to charge everyone a dollar that she doesn't even want. Everyone with a tattoo is now in the gang and they all need another drink so I bang the gong again.


"Another somebody done somebody wrong gong." says Mat, that fucking genius and we laugh til snot comes and I have to buy the dog a cheeseburger.

We're getting fucked up and it's not even dusk so it's back to the ocean for a beating in the surf. The contrast of the blue water against the white surf against the sunset sky, along with the drink and a sense of well-being made us feel like we were tripping hard and it just got better.

We decided that not only would we buy a house here in the morning but we must also buy another round! At some point I remember calling Renee from the kitchen phone and telling her how much I love her and how she should be here and I remember it came out poorly and wrong and just served to piss her off. I tried to explain but there were mosquitoesall over in the kitchen light and there was a full moon as bright as fireworks so we just had to go back in the water. I can straighten out that mess in the morning.


Having swam in Golfito the day before and being too lazy to take off the wet underwear - preferringto let it dry to a lightly damp and living with it - left me the beginnings of a vicious ball rash that even the beer couldn't anesthetize so I decided to get rid of the undies and leave them to swim with the fishes. Mat also decided to leave an offering by taking a shit in the ocean and we laughed even more.

The Brit had some blow - as well as some medicated ball powder - that kept us up for one more round of drinks and another round in the ocean before closing down the bar 8 or 9 hours after landing there.

I must have bought 70 - maybe 80 drinks as well as food.

Total bar tab - 117 dollars
Drunk dialing your wife, operator assisted from Zancudo - 26 dollars
Finding out the bar doesn't take my Mastercard so Mat gets stuck paying for it in cash - Priceless.

It was one of those drunks where the hangover starts as you are leaving the bar. We hadn't realized how far we'd walked - stopping here and there along the way - to get to the Sol Y Mar from our hotel and the fat guy in the golf cart was nowhere to be found. I was so concentrated on favoring my ball rash while I walked that I didn't notice I was wearing holes in my feet with my flip flops. The fact that I was weaving zig zigs while I walked only doubled the mileage. I stumbled into bed, sweaty and in my damp bathing suit, hours away from the worst hangover I have ever seen.

In the morning we found that, although we had slept, the bugs hadn't. Nor would they throughout the next day. Not just mosquitoesbut little black microdots of bugs that left welts 1000 times their own circumference. My rash on the inside of my thigh had me walking like in roundhouse swivels to try to avoid contact with my bag-sac. Taking off my underwear last night only made things worse - leaving my schmeckle to swing back and forth against the hard Velcro zipper until it was raw and stingy.

I put sock on under my sandals to walk to the nearest beverage and had bled thru them by the time I got back. Then I put sneakers on - still wet from the water taxi adventure - to try to find a phone or internet and bled thru my Converse without finding either.

Neither of the Beckers were doing much better and we couldn't even find a store with a proper salve or ointment to fix any of it. Besides, it would have been like using sunblock after you were already burned. Too late now. Time to flee back to Tamarindo.



Sansa Air is an adrenaline rush on the simplest of flights but the flight into Tamarindo this time was a time to find any God that was available at the moment. By the time we'd reached the coast we were bouncing like a dog's tongue out a car window. Nervous jokes amongst the passengers - "Heh, that 4 1/2 hour cab ride doesn't seem all that long anymore" - turned into a unified horror silence as we banked back from over the water and bounced above the tree lineonto the narrow airstrip. Once certain that we would not die, the entire plane erupted in applause. I have seen this with conventioneers on Vegas charters but never for collectively cheating death.

After getting my bags, I immediately went back to being agnostic, thereby nullifying any deal I had made with higher powers.

We checked back into the Pasatiempo and started to let our wounds heal. All I had to do for the next 10 days was to call my manager at 3pm for a conference call about the Man Show. No problemo, says I, showing my full knowledge of the language.

"Oh, you didn't get my message" says my manager.

"Not unless you sent it by carrier monkey." says I.

"They won't do it by conference call. They need you here Monday and Tuesday. They'll pay for the ticket."

"Fuck them. Fuck them and the Man Show. I'm on fucking vacation. What the fuck is so important that we can't do this by telephone or email? Do I have some fucking magical facial expressions that need to be seen during a meeting? Cocksuckers. I don't even want to do the fucking Man Show anymo..."

My manager knows me well enough to just let me go spastic until I'm done and then I'll fall back in line. I mean, being able to afford this time down here didn't come from CD sales, by any means.

"I'll see you Monday." I say and head to the bar. It's Friday and I have until the last Sansa plane on Sunday to drink.

Saturday note - The Patriots are still unbeaten in playoff games that I am watching from Costa Rica.

Sunday. I tell the Beckers that if my Sansa flight takes a dive, to look for my camera, as I plan to photograph the entire plummet into the jungle. I start taking pictures as soon as I get to the "airport", which consists of a runway, a scale for your bags and a wooden desk. Becker has given me a stuffed monkey that squawks and kicks its legs when you hit the button on its back and is now going off in my bag when they weigh it or put other bags on top of it. Knowing that I am in a country where one actually could smuggle a monkey out in his bag, I decide not to make eye-contact.

The flight did not crash and I delete most of the hundred pictures I took to document my final moments. Onto Los Angeles, where no one at customs questions me about the monkey.

LA gives me a chance to wash the mildew and blood out of my clothing and also a chance to have sex with my wife's best friend Amber.

The meeting - as I knew it would be - was all bullshit that could have been done over the phone. I was going to take the whole meeting with my phone at my ear to prove this point but any distraction would have just drawn it out longer and made me look the malcontent.

Kevin, who I'd met on the December trip, is on the same red-eye back down as I am. He has rented a car to drive to Tamarindo and it's no hard choice whether to ride with him 4 1/2 hours or risk Sansa again. Kevin is a smoker, see? Had he not been, I would have been on the 45 minute death flight.

The Beckers aren't hard to find when we get back since the Pasatiempo is the only place worth being a regular in Tamarindo. Ron, the owner, told me that he was discouraged from naming it that because the translation is the equivalent to wasting time, in the most negative sense. Like "waste of time" instead of "passing time". He kept the name and made it the best place in Tamarindo to piss your day away.

On Friday we take a taxi up to Brasalito and have lunch and fruity drinks by the beach. Word is there's an art show 5k north in Flamingo so, with no taxis visible, we hitchhike. A pick-up truck with two Tiko's in front cranking Hootie and the Blowfish stop for us and we haul ass north. Death and foreign countries make bad music tolerable if not good. We pass two cops riding tandem on a dirtbike and we salute them with our beers. They smile and wave.

While I pause to let the thought of something simple like actually waving at cops - on a dirtbike, no less - with open containers in your hand from the back of a moving pick-up - and have them smile and wave back, I will mention that I didn't really pork my wife's best friend. I just threw that in to see if Renee actually reads all of this drivel. Besides, Amber is HIV positive.


We stayed the next night in Flamingo. Drinking at a hotel bar in a different town makes us feel like pioneers. There's three guys from Chicago - late 50's or early 60's - drinking alongside of us. They are your generic brand of old crusties that don't care for anyone young and enjoying themselves but we leave well enough alone.

Up the hill is another hotel bar with a bad cover band cranking out the hits. Somewhere along the walk, Mat has stopped at a corner market and picked up some plastic maracas, tambourinesand a cheap baby doll. Don't ask why. Becker always has obscure items for no reason - like the screeching stuffed monkey - and if he doesn't have em, he'll get em. We end up again sitting next to the same three Chicago Crusties, this time with inappropriate noisemakers and children'stoys, and now they are even less amused. They are trying to pick up some local hookers and, by the look on the hookers faces, they haven't been very polite about it.

Remember - when you are attempting to procure prostitutes on foreign soil, you are an emissary of The Unites States of America and any ill-manners are not just a reflection of your own poor upbringing but a stain on the very country itself.

The hookers leave and the Chicago Three leave and eventually we leave when it appears we may get thrown out anyway, our tambourineing not being in tune with the band.

A third bar we pass claims to have a casino but once inside we see there is no gaming, just a bar and a dance floor. And - of course - the two hookers and the Chicago Three.

They already have "fight" in their eyes when I buy the bar - only the four of us and the five of them - a round of drinks. We overhear one of the fucks offering one of the girls 20 dollars - in that yelling-loud whisper that drunks get when they think they are being subtle. Not only is the low-ball offer uncouth, but by the way he is talking to the back of her head is good sign that he had started much lower and has worked his way up to 20.

We start polite conversation but that deteriorates quickly and the most squirrelly of the 3 tries to get Mat to step outside. There is no real threat here and when his friends intervene, it serves as much to hold him up as hold him back.

The hookers think we're funny and before we finish our drinks, we pay them both 20 bucks to leave and go to another bar. Two years ago I was down in Costa Rica on a mad whorehouse spree and now I am happy just paying hookers not to fuck other guys. Times change but fun is always fun.

We spend our last day at the Pasatiempo watching the championship games - the Patriots still perfect when I watch from here - and plotting a permanent return. There's no money to be made here, everyone will tell you. Just enough to get by. But when you are here, you realize how little you need.

The mariachi trio shuffles through and for 2 bucks they will annoy the whole bar. We give them five. Renee and I had been in some hung-overspat while walking down the street here in December and were at the apex of shit-talking each other when this very three-some happened by. I gave them 1000 colone (2.50) and they struck up the standard "Aye - aye - aye - ayyyyye" while we fought in the street. That fight was quickly diffused and - by the way - Amber isn't really HIV positive. I just wanted to see if my wife's friends read this shit.

I'd love to stay for the Superbowl - and I'm sure the Patriots would ask me to stay if they knew about the streak - but I have a miserably cold and bleak winter road schedule starting in Chicago where I expect to see three old fucks seeking revenge for the cockblock.



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