November 11, 2006

Stir it Up

Costa Rica´s Carribbean coast is more Afro than Latino, more Bob (Marley) than Che (Guevera). There´s something to its candor. It´s addictive.

It goes something like this:
¨That not shit in the toilet Miss, it´s a stain.¨

(Jose when showing his hostel).

I believed Jose, moreover, I had to hand it to him. He took the most ramshackle establishment in the village (dark and dank, concrete stairs leading to nowhere, a rusted nail thrust out of a board) and had the chutzpah to call it BACKPACKER´S DREAM.

Jose cobbled together a calpso while he fumbled with the keys. ¨The key don't open the lock, oh-no, but it not the lock fault, no no, not the lock fault.¨ Composing, Jose says, is not so hard as people think. You don't sit down and think (oh-no). Sing what you're doing and match the last word with the last word of the last line. Zing. Jose had whimsy and energy.

All eyes and flashy smile on a rickety violin bow frame. If every stain was an accusation, at least every woe a ditty. He recalled a girlfriend named Carolina, singing, ¨She went back to Europa...¨ So this was the Backpacker's dream.

Exhibit B

According to my guide, Cahuita is where we white chicks snag a Rasta love toy. This is the closest I get:

I am checking out digs—this one a not-so-shabby ($15, seafront) hotel. The proprietor, plodding stride and graying hair, has a smile like a whiff of breeze.

“Sure Miss, come have a look at my room.”

“A room,” I yip. “A room.”


The sigh says tryin’s part of greeting. We return to the tour of miniature glass chandeliers and orthopedic mattresses. His patience is more plentiful than seawater anyway, he opens every room, shows every sliver of a view even without my asking.

Exhibit C
Travel the Caribbean coast and local expats will issue you more warnings than the U.S. State Department Travel Advisory website. The hotel next to mine was robbed in the early-morning hours, while snarling echoes of howler monkeys woke me briefly. People get pick pocketed, robbed, tied up, and they wear masks now, as if that’s the worst of it.

I get the bejesus scared out of me. I am walking down a long dirt road, following signs to see a new hostel when a German Shepherd comes charging. I yell and the owner appears but the dog is fast on me now. Not braking, certainly not wagging. He ignores her call.

Sharp gnashing teeth. I break his approach with the only thing I have—a fistful of notes, my photocopied map. He gnashes them in his teeth. The taste of pulp and cardboard disappoint, he backs off. I salvage what I can.

Like hell I’m seeing this place.

I keep on down the road, the ocean to my right, lapping black sand divided by tall palms, so the water breaks like a film sequence. A man on a bicycle approaches me. I am soured. The dog (and I love dogs) made suspects out of all locals. I want nothing to do with him. Does it matter? We chat for a quarter mile anyway, him kicking his bike along to my steps. He’s got a funny face. He says he’s an electrician making house calls. Very good business here, where the salt air rots everything to dust.

A few hours later, he rolls up. I am walking back.

“I declare, it must be the will of Providence!” he says. “Do you believe?”

Who is this supposed handyman? It isn’t like I returned. I haven’t left. He is not impressed with my logic.

“Sometimes you are here for a reason,” he says, “and it is NOT the one you think it is.”

Part of me likes these breaking-and-enterings of casual philosophy. How often are you terribly bored when you could be having a perfectly deep conversation with the stranger next to you? On the other hand, he has to be a huckster. Whoever heard of going door to door fixing boom boxes? The more I talk to him, the more I’ll get tangled in the lines.

I am thinking how to extricate myself when a lady shows up, the same expat who whispered about the masked men.

“Eric, is my coffee pot ready? Can you drop it by?”

And sometimes the writing on the wall IS that plain: an old fart’s seduction, the person passing time, the dog who wants to bite your buttock. We don’t expect face value. It’s abrupt, this Caribbean candor composed to stir it up, to make respectable you blush and stammer.

The pot is stirred. But if you can hang in there, maybe you can keep playing.

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