BOB CORBETT'S TRAVEL JOURNAL -- 2005

Costa Rica 4 -- October 1, 2005
Tico food

By Bob Corbett

I ate at a place my guide book said served typical Tico food (Costa Rican) and mainly served locals. It was a large open-air barn like place. It was raining and 4-5 tables were closed by the rain.

It was a bit run down, but I loved it. I ordered an Imperial beer. I've totally given up on wine. I went to the Super Mas yesterday. (It was no larger than a medium sized convenience store in St. Louis). They had an entire wall of wine, but no bargains. Horrible wines like Gallo were $10 or more and the cheapest Chilean wine was $15.00, more than my room! With this delicious beer at $1.30 a bottle I'll wait until I get home to drink wine.

I ordered filete de la Tropicana. Oh my goodness -- it was fantastic. A huge filet of white ocean fish smothered in a tomato sauce with small pieces of mango, banana and pineapple and a salsa sauce taste. There was also one very pungent, tangy spice I don't think I've ever had before. Delicious, but I have no idea what it was. This came with a large salad and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. All this for $6.00.

It poured last night and when it rains the humidity is oppressive -- I sweat buckets. My fan was nice, but even a sheet is too much cover. but laying on the bed with no sheet soon brings the familiar buzz, buzz, buzz of mosquitoes. I just laughed out loud. This was the routine I've lived with in Haiti for the past 20 years.

You lay down, itís hot and humid. You take off the sheet to enjoy the breeze if you're lucky enough to have a fan and electricity. (At least here the electricity seems to work all the time). Then you hear the buzz of mosquitoes and your foot or leg begin to itch. You put on the sheet. Things calm down. But then you realize you and the sheet are dripping wet as though you'd jumped into a sauna. After feeling you will drown or suffocate, you take off the sheet and thus begins the ping pong of the night. No sheet -- feels good -- buzz buzz, bite bite -- sheet back on -- soaked and miserable -- sheet off and on and on it goes back and forth.

I could have gotten up and dug my oil out of my bag, but I was lazy and this morning, Sunday is the day I take my weekly malaria pill anyway, so I just said heck with it, uncovered and let the mosquitoes feast. Nonetheless I slept well.

At 5 AM I was up and ready, but people really sleep late here. Nothing was open. I shaved (shaving is much harder with cold water than showering) and then really woke myself fully with a strong crisp cold shower. The stall is so large three people could shower at once and probably have in the past.

I went out at 6 AM. People at the bus station were waiting buses. 20-30 cabs already lined up near-by (bus from San Jose arrived shortly) but nothing else was open. I walked down to the street by the sea and one open-air place was open. Lovely. Huge. I can smell the sea air. I got my cafe con leche and ordered the fresh fruit platter. What a meal. Watermelon, bananas, papaya, lots of fresh pineapple, and a large slice of lime which I presume was for decoration, but which I gobbled with the rest. Huge platter.

I was served by a young man (probably teen), attentive and my second cup of coffee was quickly served. Now -- quite a bit later -- the three staff are sitting at a table having a ball. I glance up often, he sees me looking, but I think can't imagine I actually want a third cup, but I do, and will keep at it.

I'm reminded of a trip to Greece in the mid-1990s. My travel partner drank more coffee than I do. The tiny Greek coffees are very strong. She always wanted AT LEAST 3. We breakfasted at Johnnyís Cafe for three weeks in this tiny village. When she would ask for a third cup Johnny would say: NO. 2 is enough. She'd badger him. Nothing. She threaten to go across the tiny 10 foot street to another place. He'd threaten to tell them not to serve her. The battle would rage.

It was hilarious. Today she's on this mailing list, reading this and the irony is she now lectures me not to drink too much Costa Rican coffee. What was good for the goose in Greece is not good for the gander in Costa Rica.

As I write this he just set down my third cup (and final one for the day).

I was a bit rude a few minutes ago. It began yesterday. I went to a cafe up the street to read and have a beer. A couple came in and sat close next to me in this fairly crowded cafe.

The guy, in his mid to late 50s I would guess, was with a local woman but they were speaking English fluently and loudly. I had to use effort to concentrate on a very good book. He was just an offensive fellow to me. When I passed the bus station an hour or more ago he was there and asked if I spoke English. I allowed I did and we chatted some. Most of you know me. I fairly outgoing and absurdly open. But I didn't even give him my first name and didn't ask his, I was trying to politely get away. He just couldn't stop chattering. From Hawaii, he wants to settle here and build a huge home on the beach. He's traveling with a 16 year old Nicaraguan woman who has a tiny baby and his interests are not (on his admission) much with the mother, but the child. He never married and now he wants to raise a baby.

I told him a number of things about raising children, and agreed with his expectation that it was a process of unimagined joy, but I also emphasized the awesome responsibility it is and the length of years of commitment one is taking on. I wasn't trying to discourage his enthusiasm, I just wanted to raise the total picture for him. It's so much more than the delights of the first crawling, first steps, first words; it's more than the delights of the beginning of school and birthdays and first communion. It's also the trips to the emergency room, cleaning up vomit, changing dirty diapers, then later the hassles of "encouraging" homework without breaking bones, and the terrible teens. I didn't bother mentioning the expenses; it was quite clear that wasn't much of an issue.

But, I just didn't like the guy.

I asked what the mother thought of all this and he was so blunt. She's from rural Nicaragua, got pregnant, and kicked out of her conservative home with this little baby. A taxi driver, her uncle, tells this guy about her and that was just a short time ago... Here they are. He says: "I'm offering her a better deal than any alternative she's got."

I didn't agree or disagree; said nothing. That's a really tragic case. I am both appalled by his ways and crassness, but I too consider -- what options does she realistically have.

I had no sense, no intuition of how serious or deep was his sincerity or wanting to raise this child. Hard stuff.

I split as soon as I could. Then he arrived here a few minutes ago. I had told him one of my great pleasures was reading and I would do a lot on this trip. And I had my book open when he came in. I was the only customer in this huge place. He asked if he could join me and I told the truth but not the whole truth. "Normally I would welcome a visitor," I said, and that's the absolute truth. "But today I have to read this book. I'm sorry." That sentence was not true in two ways:

A. The verb "have to" was not true. The verb "want to" or even worse "prefer to" would have been more honest.

B. "I'm sorry," was absolutely not true.

He sat down, drank a quick coffee and left in five minutes.

I'm learning on this trip that I'm extremely happy alone. I have no desire to strike up a conversation but I keep running into people who want to chat, as on the bus coming here. But I'm choosing, much to my delight, to retreat into myself, my thoughts, my reading, just gaping out the window.

I'm actually happy all this came up as an "issue" so early in my trip. I think I'll be more reserved on the rest of the trip than is my normal demeanor.

But, yes, I was a bit rude.

I have changed places and am now SETTLED IN. I moved a bit ago from Casa Mary just 1/2 block down the street to Casa Hellene. I have a larger and brighter room with a refrigerator and two chairs and a table. A nice bathroom with two large towels, which I didn't have at Mary's. I pay 1000 colones more ($2.00 more, total $13.00 a night) but I will save money since I can more easily bring food home. I have undercover chairs in front of my cabina, and lovely chairs on the home's main porch, under cover from rain.

I'm really happy I moved and told the folks I'll stay at least 4-5 days.

And it is still just teeming rain, but I'm headed off anyway. I have my rain gear and don't mind the rain.

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu