A few nights ago, Erin and I were having a rare, quiet evening indoors. I had just cooked us a dinner of thick quesadillas with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and some type of orange cheese that melted into a beautiful, gooey, stringy mess. Chased with a couple of our favorite Nicaraguan beers, it was decidedly more successful than our attempt at rice ‘n beans.
It hadn’t even started to congeal in our arteries when we heard a knock at the door.
Who could that be? We thought.
We weren’t expecting any company, and the couple of miles on the dirt road that carries you from town to our place of residence may as well be a million to those of our (mostly car-less) friends who dare navigate the labyrinth of potholes in the pitch black of night.
Not to mention the fact that we didn’t hear anyone approach, and our windows were wide open. We’re in Costa Rica and we have no a/c. Our windows are always open.
Erin crept to the door and I followed close behind. You know, to watch her back. Then she opened the door to a most unexpected visitor, indeed.
Hey, I heard you girls are new in town. I thought maybe I could take you out, buy you a few flies, you know… rrrrrribbit…. see where things go.
Then maybe we could head back to my place and take a dip in the pond.
Two days ago the Central American country of Costa Rica celebrated 189 years of independence. It was kind of a big deal.
And while we didn’t see any fireworks here in the little town of Bagaces, the people here proved that they do, without a doubt, know how to celebrate.
People lined the streets to watch a parade put on by school students of all ages. Some were dressed in beautiful (I’m assuming traditional?) clothes.
Don’t let all the jeans fool you – it was HOT outside.
I think the entire town showed up – lining the streets and even climbing trees to watch the parade.
Our friend Karla’s son played the drum.
Oh, the drums.
This isn’t your typical American high school marching band. This was something else. Something spectacular. The rhythm was palpable. And the energy of the players – even through the heat – was incredible. They jumped in the air, throwing the barrels behind their backs like it was nothing. It wasn’t just music. It was a dance. It was intense.
What I learned that day about this town is that the people here are really no different from any small community in the U.S. They love gathering for celebrations, and all of the related accoutrements: eating great food, listening to fun music, and of course, showing off their babies.
By the way, I really think Erin and I are finally starting to blend in.
Pinto, a world-travelling intern from Spain who’s been working here for approximately the past 5 years, always brings strange and wonderful fruits to work and offers to let us try them.
Pinto is a wandering engineer who doesn’t believe in marriage and somehow always manages to get his food before anyone else when we go to our most frequented restaurant here in Bagaces.
And, like I said, Pinto is generous with fruit – fruit he buys from the local street vendors – fruit I’m always eager to try.
But I’ll admit – when I saw this sitting on my desk, I was a little skeptical. I mean – it looks more like a toy I’d buy for my dogs than something edible.
I had to look inside.
Oooh! What’s that? Some type of gummy, gooey, gelatinous substance. Like something out of Alien…
Costa Ricans call this a mamón chino, otherwise known as a rambutan (according to Wikipedia). This is the edible “meat” inside. Should I eat it?
Hells yeah I should. It was good. Tangy, sweet, and a really cool texture. The only thing I did not enjoy was the woody seed I managed to splinter in my mouth with my teeth – the seed I’m just now reading on Wikipedia is “mildly poisonous” when eaten raw.
My mistake. This time. But next time? Next time I’ll be ready.
Remember that one common area in high school where everyone would hang out in the morning before the first bell?
Remember that feeling you’d get walking through that gauntlet as a Freshman? Feeling the heat of a thousand beady upper-classman eyes boring into you, mercilessly dissecting your merchandise and fashion choices?
No matter who you were or how confident and carefree you felt before you entered that high school, you suddenly became the thin-skinned, self-conscious, shaky Chihuahua of Social Inadequacy.
Your JanSport backpack felt immediately uncool. Your Sketchers, beyond lame. Your cuffed jeans were now a crime against humanity. And your scrunchy…
Dear God, your scrunchy.
That’s what it feels like, every single day I walk to work. Instantly, I’m transported back to that horrible moment where all eyes are on you. Watching you.
I mean, they don’t even try to act polite about it.
I know they’re whispering about how I wore the exact same outfit last week. And the week before that.
I knew before we came to Costa Rica that the language situation would be a challenge. And when I say “language situation,” I mean the fact that I speak next to no Spanish. Nada. Remember?
I’m lucky so many people speak English here, but I still feel like a standoffish gringo bitch whenever one of the non-English-speaking employees tries to talk to me at work. I grasp at the air, desperately trying to pick up a few words I might recognize in the outpouring of one-sided conversation.
This “situation” has led to more than one embarrassing moment, not excluding the time last week when one of my co-workers came into the restroom a minute after me. She was chatting away, presumably asking questions, judging from the inflection in her voice. Hearing no one answer her, I assumed she was talking to someone on her cell phone. I couldn’t tell, since – you know – I was sitting in the stall, pants around my ankles, oblivious to even the most basic of human interactions in any country – women gabbing in a restroom – that she was talking to me. Duh.
I literally let her go on for 2 minutes while I sat there as she searched for some type of response – any type of response – to let her know that there was, in fact, another woman sitting in the stall next to her and not some psycho person creepin’ in the girls’ restroom. Finally she started calling out names… Vivian? Carla? Erin? (I love how they pronounce Erin’s name here – Aireeen? With a lovely roll of the “r”.) Then, finally – Katie?!
In retrospect that really should’ve been her first guess. I mean, everyone here knows that I’m the ignorant one. So really, the total confusion was her fault. Right?
Anyway. I am picking some stuff up. I’ve learned how to say bitch (puta), dickface (carapichá), and of course, una más cerveza, por favor. I think the most confusing issue for me (and everyone around me) is the fact that every time I try to speak, I’m mixing English, a wee bit of Spanish, and… wait for it… German.
Yes, I’m that girl.
I took German classes all throughout highschool and 3 years in college. So, when I try to speak a language other than my native tongue, I automatically deflect to German. It’s what I’ve always known.
Ein boot? Un barco? A boat.
But crappy Spangermlish aside, I hope my minuscule improvements – no matter how slight and wrought with errors – at least make it known that I am trying. I didn’t want to come down here and presume everyone would accommodate me by speaking in English. In fact, I originally assumed that I’d pretty much be a social outcast, lurking in corners with a drink in one hand, cigarette in the other (no mom, I did not pick up smoking – it ‘s for visual effect), mutely surveilling the Ticos and my American friends as they talk about me not behind my back but in front of my face because I’m just. that. dumb.
And I would have deserved that.
But it’s really not that way here. The patience of some of these people as I struggle through a simple sentence that comes out sounding like a 2-year-old crack-addicted schizophrenic with Tourette’s (Yo quiero un… shit! – como se dice “ride”? – ah, paseo… al la… al la… oh puta. Tienda?) is astounding. And sure – there’s probably the occasional – okay daily – chuckle at my expense, but that would be a human thing – not a Tico thing.
Even while completely surrounded by it, learning a new language is hard. At least for me. And I’ll tell you one thing – it’s far more difficult for the people living in Latin America to decipher my Spangermlish that it is for me to “push 1 for English” in the United States.
I want to whine about how I woke up this morning with my nose stuffed up, my chest congested and my eyeballs aching… yet again.
I want to piss and moan about how my pits are perennially gnarly, my upper lip is permanently sweat-stached, and how it seems entirely possible that my feet will be constantly covered in filth and muck forever and ever until the end of eternity, amen.
I want to wail and gnash my teeth about how I miss my husband and family and curling iron. I want to curse the gods for having to formulate complicated arrangements involving no less than three different modes of transportation a week in advance just to get to a grocery store to buy bread. I want to lie down and roll around on the ground while kicking and screaming about the unfairness of being sick nearly every single day of the three weeks we’ve been in Costa Rica.
And, normally, Iwould. Because that’s the kind of miserable, ungrateful person I am.
Seriously, have you met me?
But, today, I can’t seem to do it. Because, for the moment, I’m stopped dead in my tracks by all the unsympathetic beauty of the world around me.
And it’s making me remember that I’m lucky that I have a nose to get stuffy and pits to get gnarly and feet to get muddy and a husband, family and curling iron to miss.
And, for that, some small, rational part of me sends up thanks to the Great Whoever that I’m alive to experience all the loneliness and unfairness and crappiness of life.
And so, today, I think I will just shut up and smile.
I hate feeling tired at all, but especially when the view outside your window is persistently telling me to feel awake, alive and happy.
I hate that the first three sentences of this post start with the words, “I hate.”
Maybe it’s my newly-rejuvenated coffee dependency and the fact that I’ve only had one cup so far this morning.
Maybe it’s the fruity rum drinks, wine and cerveza from ladies’ night on the town.
Maybe it’s the 5 hours of sleep and the slap in the face when I looked in the mirror this morning and realized why – in fact – they call it beauty sleep, and why – in fact – this applies to me now that I’m 27.
So what do I love this morning?
Strange, but I love that it was hard to breathe on our walk to work. Whether it’s from the large amounts of chile pepper fumes I inhaled while making hot sauce yesterday or never-dulling beauty of the view along the way, I don’t really care. I love it. I love it near tears.
I love how happy most of the people here are most of the time – even if we’re usually covered in mud, sweat, mosquito bites or any combination of the 3, it’s really difficult to be unhappy here.
I love that I made one of my favorite hot sauces yesterday with my own bare – actually gloved – hands. And am making another favorite today – one so garlicky that its aroma, one of my favorites in the world, just might cover up the musty smell from my clothes that never quite finished drying after the last wash.
No, I don’t have a photo of my clothes.
But I do have photos of the hot-sauce making process. Unfortunately, they’re on my camera. My camera is at Bec’s place.
I hate that I’m so forgetful.
Apparently it’s going to be one of those days. Maybe I should just go get another damn cup of coffee.
As Katie already mentioned here, our trip to the Nicaraguan shore and back was chock full o’ crazy times.
A lot happened in three days (96.5% of it fun) and I could rattle off a lengthy play-by-play of the entire weekend but if we were to skip the polite banalities and be honest with each other here, I think we’d come to the mutual agreement that (a) I don’t want to write all that jazz and (b) you don’t want to read all that jazz.
So, let’s just skip ahead to the part of the post where I break the trip down by the numbers, mmkay?
Mmkay. So here goes…
7 – Number of people in our Nicaragua-bound band of misfits.
175 – Approximate distance, in kilometers, from Bagaces, Costa Rica, to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.
2 – Number of hours it took our bus to reach the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
1 – Number of hours it took us to actually cross the border.
8 – Degrees Farenheit the temperature rose as soon as we stepped foot onto Nicaraguan soil.
1 – Cost, in US dollars, of the tasty Nicaraguan beer, Toña (pronounced “TOE-nya”–do not disrespect the beverage by saying its name wrong).
21:1 – Exchange rate for calculating Nicaraguan córdobas to US dollars.
π = (ℓ)-1(t)1(ℓ /t)1 – What the currency exchange rate formula may as well have been, considering my cripplingly bad math skills.
15 – Cost, in US dollars, of our hostel per person, per night.
4 – Number of hostel beds available for our party of seven. (Katie and I shared a double bed and Donovan kept the mosquitoes company in a hammock out in the courtyard.)
10 – Amount of time, in minutes, it took to walk from the center of San Juan del Sur to our hostel.
8 – Approximate number of times someone tripped and fell during the 10-minute walk.
9 – Average rating, on a scale of 1 to 10, of the meals we ate during our three-day tour.
60 – Approximate percentage of San Juan del Sur’s population that were gringo ex-pats with nappy dreads milling around the coffee shops and trying to hock puka shell necklaces on the sidewalk. 30 percent were actual native Nicaraguans (a.k.a., “Nicos” and “Nicas”). The other 10 percent were us.
1 – Number of near-fatal accidents involving a seven-foot-high ledge, unreliable depth perception and poor life choices.
3 – Amount, in US dollars, of the best dang mojito I’ve ever had.
4 – Number of trips taken to the ATM for the last time, seriously.
12 – Estimated median age of the three producers of Survivor we met while eating at a pizza joint in town.
4 – Number of times I tried to get them to tell me which cast member they hate most.
1 – Number of heartfelt renditions of Bette Middler’s “The Rose” Katie was able to tolerate before evacuating the karioke bar.
1,542 – Number of beers consumed over the weekend.
0 – Number of times we swam in the ocean.
28 – Number of immigration forms filled out coming and going across the border.
0 – Number of people in our party who had proof of the exit visa that Costa Rica’s border patrol suddenly decided to start requiring for re-entry into the country.
140 – Amount, in US dollars, we were advised by a Costa Rican border patrol clerk to pay for false documentation to cross back into Costa Rica.
3 – Number of times someone suggested just running for it, man, before Becca managed to charm the clerk into grudgingly giving us all temporary visas.
30 – Amount of time, in seconds after we boarded the bus that it left for Bagaces.
No shoes or shirt? No problem. No exit visa? You’re screwed.
All in all, it was a great trip to Nicaragua and we got to spend it with an awesome group of folks.
And perhaps the most important–yet highly underrated–part of what makes any trip great is: Being able to go home.
We jammed a lot into one little weekend. And we’ll tell you about it forthwith. (Can I say “forthwith,” or is that so last century?)
But first, it only makes sense to introduce our motley crew of fellow travelers.
This is Rebecca. I call her Becs.
Becs is quickly becoming one of my favorite people in the world. And not only because she bought us cookies and knows how to pick the bugs out of pasta. She is the extremely patient mother of two beautiful little boys, is as easy-going as John Mayor after he’s had a couple of blunts, and she had the cajones to pack up her world and move to another country – in a town withouta Starbucks. But the best thing about Becs is that she’s always game for a laugh. You cannot not laugh when you’re around her. And laughing is good for the soul. So by my reasoning, so must be Becs.
As far as I can tell, her only questionable quality is the fact that she married this guy.
This is Aaron. Okay, so maybe he’s all right – even though he tried to lock me into an ATM booth in San Juan del Sur.
*Fingers have been blurred to protect the innocent.
Maybe he’s all right because he’s been giving us a place to live and money for food and might – occasionally – read this blog.
But in all honesty, he’s an extremely creative goofball and we love working for him. He makes a mean torti burguesa (we’ll cover that eventually), has a wicked sense of humor, and – though he’ll hate me for saying it – is incredibly generous. He wants everyone around him to have a good time, and that they do. Oh, and suppose I have to give him credit for being the mastermind behind what Erin and I believe to be a soon-to-be HUGE hot sauce hit. He’s the Mayor of Chile Town, and so far all the citizens seem pretty damn happy.
And I have to admit – he and Becs make a pretty fantastic couple.
Then there’s this guy. Donovan. Donovan started working here a few days before Erin and I arrived, but he’s been to Costa Rica a multitude of times. Donovan thinks he IS Costa Rican. (And judging by the way he already knows everyone in Bagaces, I wouldn’t be surprised.) Donovan does not like to be called Donny. And even though he looks like a hardass, we can always count on Donny – err, Donovan, to make sure we make it home okay. He wants to do good things for the people of this country, and I do believe he will.
Matt (aka. “Matteo”) is another one of the interns working in our office. A gifted guitar player and singer, Matteo makes you want to sit around a campfire cooking s’mores and singing songs. Matteo speaks his own language – a combination fraternity boy/California surfer dude mixed with intellectual college grad/insightful world traveler. One who got arrested for stealing manhole covers in Italy. He looks like a thin Jack Black. No, the guy from Into the Wild. No, Syndrome from The Incredibles. Whatever. Matteo’s a trip – the kind who will make you laugh when you think about something he said days after he said it. And that’s a pretty good way to be.
And finally, our group of 7 wouldn’t have been complete without JJ – or Jota, as everyone here calls him. An extremely talented artist, Jota designed all of the luchadores found on the Chile Town hot sauce bottles as well as the town map. When Jota plays the guitar, he inspires. The music flows, eyes close, and you always have to smile. He’s better than he’ll admit. I already know my memories of his music will be my soundtrack to Costa Rica. He’s lived here for a few years – is half-Guatemalan, in fact – and has big dreams of a beautiful future in Central America. I don’t doubt he’ll make it happen.
So that’s our crazy group of wild gringos. I have tons more to share (and so does Erin), but the obscene amount of photos is going to force us to break this down in parts.
But let me give you the quick Nicaragua weekend summary:
We ate fantastic food.
We drank fantastic drinks.
We met some fantastic people.
And we sampled plenty of fantastic hot sauce.
This weekend we traveled to Nicaragua and came out a little smarter, a little muddier, and a lot more appreciative of coming home to a place where we could throw our toilet paper in the toilet – not the trash.
So we had a slight lapse in posts while we spent the weekend in Nicaragua. Sorry about that. We’ll make it up to you by showing you ALL the fun we had – even though we almost weren’t let back into Costa Rica. Almost. But a sweet-talkin’ gringa and series of bribe requests later, we made it. Dirty, exhausted, and incredibly happy.