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"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"

Episode 2 - November 2008

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Una Dia Tipica in Quepos

Mucha juvia esta tarde… (No more free translations – go to http://freetranslation.paralink.com/ and get it yourself).

Well, it still is the rainy season in the rain forest so water from the sky can be expected at any time but how and when it will come always is unpredictable. It might only be a 5 minute light shower or a 20 minute deluge so heavy one can’t see more than 10 meters (residency here demands I go metric), or a 5 hour steady downpour that can result in 25 to 30 centimeters de aqua (10-12 inches for those of you in Rio Linda – this also being the last linear conversion offered). 

Our hero learned from a transient Frenchman this morning that they, that is, the Frogs (pun intended) call the rainforest “Le Foret Humide” [le foray ooomeede]. A little understated I should say, but that’s probably why French has been the diplomatic language for so long – one can say so much and mean so little that it causes minimal offense. Or at least one can produce endless micro variations of the central meaning.

So this morning at 6 AM it was sunny, cool and clear, the kind that makes you want to kiss a monkey (I sometimes had the same feeling when I was drinking). The cocks crowed, the hounds bayed, huge Mack trucks growled and strained their way out of the construction site nearby. All was well with the world. Our hero stirs uneasily and with the return of consciousness remembers that he isn’t physically well and that he’s only slept three hours, making a total of 7 hours for the previous three nights. He’s still fighting a serious case of bronchitis a week after it first exhibited itself as a tight chest and shortness of breadth.

With all the time I had to ponder my condition, it occurred to me there has been a cycle in recent years that goes like this: (1) start smoking cigars on a daily basis and maintain at least a 2-3 count per day rate; (2) develop chronic bronchitis. This cycle has occurred 3-4 times in the last 3 years. A normal person might take that as a signal, a sign, a possible indication of a causal link. But remember, you’re dealing with the refugee from the Mexican Border Incident, who had to be whacked side the head by a 75 year old cowboy to get the message that driving through Central America as a lonely Gringo in a Florida-plated Honda was muy loco.

But now, after four days of barely being able to breath and hacking and coughing incessantly, I finally get the smoking message: “You can’t smoke those fucking cigars anymore, asshole”.

So now I’m enlightened.

Improvement in our hero’s condition started only two days earlier when his roommate and another friend in the program suggested (a suggestion is defined in Webster as a “subtle demand”) he see a doctor. Someone mentioned Dr. Carlos but could not produce a second name nor a location for the medicine man. A quick scan of Quepolandia (the local mag for English speakers) did however reveal an advertisement for a 7 day, 24-hour, 365 day clinic. What attracted the sufferer was the “always open” sign and the “English spoken” statement. A serious illness is no time to practice cocktail translations. The ad also stated “We make house and hotel calls”. Why this Carlos is a serious marketeer; I was sold. We jumped into the Dhiatsu (my spelling – disculpeme) Terios and scooted up the Manuel Antonio hill to the 7/24/365 clinic - it was closed.

Not to be discouraged, we talked with the pharmacy employees next door about what to do. One of my friends (Van) has been here a number of years and knew the drill much better than I. Unlike those overly-concerned-about-litigation types in the U.S., we were able to have a spirited discussion about my condition and what medication I should take for it. The consensus was that a Z-Pak/expectorant strategy would work. It appears there are no medical liability laws in Costa Rica. A pharmacist can give you her diagnosis and treatment (or even a counter clerk as I found out later the one we talked to was just that), and if a doctor kills you with his treatment, the attitude is “Joo didn’t choose da rite doctor, Senor”. It’s Caveat Emptor at its finest.

The good news is the Z-Pak seemed to produce some relief 4 hours after first taking it and this morning there was another small improvement. So, our meeting with the good Doctor Carlos never occurred and the attempt at using the clinic failed but recovery is progressing satisfactorily.

Breakfast was typical Gringo-Tico consisting of grain cereal imbedded with raisins, dried fruit, and nuts, covered with pieces of fresh banana and papaya (todas las dias neccessitamos las frutas) and laced with super-pasteurized milk product. I forgot they preferred this kind of “milk” here as they did in Europe when I lived there in the seventies. It’s highly pasteurized, sterilized if you will, and is sold in small boxes directly off the shelf not from the cooler. It only needs refrigeration after it’s opened; otherwise it has a shelf life of approximately 2 millennia. Surprisingly it tastes like real milk, at least the 2% variety.

Our hero’s routine and timing was continuing to improve this morning, after a breadth-taking 5 minute walk to the bus station. He got there at 8:25 just in time for the 8:30 to Manuel Antonio. While standing in the outdoor waiting area, he immediately took note of a very loud individual accompanied by two other men, one older, one younger only two or three meters away. This man was a larger than average Tico, perhaps 1.85 meters tall, 80 kilos, solidly built, someone who was not a stranger to hard physical work. A quick glance suggested to the writer that the man had been drinking all night. Well, perhaps not, but the man’s flushed, swollen face, red eyes, huge bags under them, and the fact that he was bouncing off the terminal wall when he tried to walk, supported our hero’s hasty conclusion as being on target (there but for the Grace…).

The younger of the two men with the drunk appeared to be, because of similar facial features, the inebriate’s son. Both the son and the other man, probably a friend, were trying to calm down the sot but the effort was mostly in vain. The man seemed to wax on eloquently about nothing I could interpret but I did manage to hear the word “Puta” repeatedly (Rio Lindians might want to look that up). What I found most interesting was that nary a person in the crowd, neither man nor woman, glanced at the detox candidate nor did they exhibit any expression of disapproval or even surprise during his entire discourse. They were truly poker faced (I shall keep that in mind should I find myself in a game of chance with Ticos & Ticas).

The door for the Manuel Antonio bus opened and the line quickly formed, giving me an opportunity to put some distance between me and the drunk. Not to be, as the bus driver emerged to tell everyone that a different bus was going first. My uptake on the driver’s Spanish being slower than the natives, I dropped a number of positions back on the new line as it formed, but I was still well separated from the drunk and his entourage. Upon boarding the bus and paying my 210 Colones ($0.38 US) I took up my favorite position in a seat directly across from the rear exit door. I have come to favor this position because, from here, it’s easiest to avoid parting and jostling numerous Ticos with my huge frame as I leave.

The last passajeros to board the bus were the drunk and his groupies. They took up positions standing just between me and the rear exit door. So much for planning. I practiced my exit for the entire ten minutes it took to roll the autoboos up the hill including the first two stops. When my time came, I “Perdone’d” and “Disculpame’d” myself quickly past Egor but accidently brushed his tunic in the process. As I stepped off the bus I caught a remark from my new amigo that I couldn’t translate but it came across as not exactly praise nor did it seem to be a request for better international relations. Did I really hear “gringo”, “puto” and “hijo de perra” in the same sentence?

I love it here. Never was I cursed out so well in Sarasota, especially in a romance language.

The meeting at the Mono Azul (Blue Monkey) Hotel was uneventful but pleasant as usual. I have learned from Jennifer and Chip that the name Mono Azul or Blue Monkey Hotel, copyrighted in both languages, has no greater significance than that it was suggested by Jennifer’s daughter when she was young. A great name for a business – difficult to forget. Having survived the AA convention in late October and coming up on the high season here, the two owners have gone off on their annual cruise to somewhere. Last year it was Alaska and they found it cold – duh!?

I practiced new techniques suggested by Chip for returning down the mountain from Manuel Antonio to Quepos. You can (1) stand anywhere on the down hill side and simply flag a bus down (try that in SRQ), or (2) you can flag a taxi down and pay only 500 Colones (91 US cents – last currency translation) into Quepos versus the normal 1500-3000 to go up. The taxi boys are deadheading downhill and they know it, so the practice has become wide-spread and, if you take only the red (official) taxis, it’s always honored. I chose option one and flagged down the bus for 210 colones.

At the bottom of the hill I discharged myself in front of the Catholic Church and proceeded across the street about 50 meters to the Post office to check for new mail. The key to my box door was “no functionar” and I reported it to the mailroom clerk, whereupon he produced a spare and suggested, in graspable Spanish, that I take it downtown (the center of which is two blocks away from the post office) and have a copy made. No request for fees and he trusted me with his spare. It’s a smallville thing.

As I mentioned in the beginning, it rained this afternoon, and for some time. It began when I exited the post office and I quickly put off getting the spare spare made until another day. I elected instead to stop at Sargento Garcia, a small corner watering hole that caters to Americans and has three television screens (one wide), sort of the Quepos equivalent of a sports bar (Big Al’s on the Trail is not threatened). There was only one other patron who was sitting in one of the half dozen rocking chairs that face two of the screens. He looked to be about 70 (correct, as it turned out) and congenial (also correct). Obvious to both of us that we were Americans, we quickly introduced ourselves. Charlie was sipping (I mean that precisely) from an old fashioned glass what looked like two fingers of neat scotch or bourbon. I ordered a Coca Regular and a tuna salad sandwich.

Conversation eventually turned to my being new in Quepos and I went over in general terms what I did so far that day and how I was trying to develop a routine. When I mentioned the bronchitis thing he immediately responded: “Did you go to Dr. Carlos, he’s very good”. He then produced a brand new edition of Quepolandia and turned to an advertisement by the venerable healer. Scanning it I noticed that Carlos’ place of business was indeed the 7/24/365 clinic at the top of Manuel Antonio. There, now I know, all roads to healing lead to the always-open clinic, if you can get there when he’s not making a house or hotel call.

Later in the conversation I mentioned meeting some people in the morning at the Mono Azul and Charlie immediately asked: “Are you a friend of Bob’s?” I said do you mean a friend of Bill’s? “Oh yes, he said, I’ve forgotten, it’s been so long since I went to a meeting, more than 40 years. I know they have meetings at the Mono Azul”. “How long has it been since you’ve had a drink?” he says. “Eighteen years” says I. “God bless you and keep up the good work”, says Charlie sipping his libation. Then he introduced me to Christine the bartender/waitress who served us and who was doing a raffle for her neighbor, a lady with three kids and no money for Christmas. I bought two tickets for this noble cause, all the time wondering if it was really for Christine’s Christmas vacation. Our hero can still be a callous, skeptical boob at times.

After about an hour, Charlie and I parted ways, new friends in Quepos and, for me, another resource.

Of course our hero managed to forget his umbrella, so the trip home was through a heavy rain that drenched thoroughly. The good news was that my lap top, which had been simply slipped uncovered into my new backpack, came through dry as a bone. The pack is actually waterproof.


We get excited about simple things here in Quepos.

Hasta la proxima vez, amigos.

Roberto de Quepos,
El Kahuna

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