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"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"

Episode 7 - February 2009

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Beach Bus Bingo, Spanish - German Style, Seagulls & Seagal, Pugilistic Contrast

Beach Bus Bingo 

For the first time in 50 years our hero has not owned a car. Living without one has not been as difficult as he thought it would be.

Why, I even took a bus last week to San Jose, a nearly four hour venture with only one stop half way, so the passengers can relieve themselves and buy local alimentations. This pit stop is greatly appreciated by GG, who happens to be on two diuretics, and who likes the fresh cut and pared pineapple slices available at the stand.

I am now a veteran of the daily buses to Manuel Antonio originating at the downtown Quepos terminal. This terminal is located dead center in the town and boasts 5 docks where as many as 10 buses compete for position at any hour of the day. The terminal area is 30-40 yards wide and faces south onto the main street in Quepos, a street which I have cleverly called Main Street as no one else has bothered to name it. On this street are found many shops and restaurants popular with Ticos and Gringos alike.

On the north side of the terminal is a large, graveled lot that is popular with pirate taxis and assorted teenagers with their hot rods. This space also becomes the regular site for the Friday/Saturday farmer’s market and is home to the odd occasional spectacle such as the boxing match that was recently held there in an uncovered ring under the stars. The site is reported to be the place where the Quepos Cultural Center will be built; of course, that proposal has been reported for some ten years now.  

The bus terminal is divided into three sections. In the center is the waiting area, a series of some 20 wooden benches in four rows and open to the environment except for a roof. Here one is constantly entertained by vendors selling pirated musica and videos, vegetables and other assorted necessities. One guy I like in particular is the fellow who sells sliced green mangoes in small plastic bags with a wedge of Limone and a tiny sac of salt inside. Squeeze the Limone onto the slices, administer just a little salt and you have a treat. Tart, salty and sweet all at once, it’s unlike anything else in the world.

As an aside, the Limone (lih-mo-knee) is a fruit particular to Costa Rica (oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s also grown north and south of here – you better-traveled folks can enlighten me). The Limone is green on the outside like a lime but has a distinctly mottled skin that makes it much uglier than any citrus I’ve ever seen. My suspicion is that the Limone is actually a mutant fruit devised by the United Fruit Company, which used to operate citrus and pineapple groves here. In my daydreams, I see a mad scientist in a dirty lab coat crossing fruit genes and producing an unexpected result, the Limone.

Cut open a Limone and it looks like an orange, but the juice tastes nothing like an orange or a lime or, for that matter a lemon. It tastes like a Limone. Limone juice is used to enliven fish, to wake up a salad or to give a tart, refreshing edge to drinks. Many people squeeze a Limone into a glass filled with ice and then top it off with club soda. Muy fresca y refrescante, Senores. Personally, I love it in my morning orange juice as well as in a glass of Squirt in the afternoon (yes, Dorothy, Squirt is common here, just like it used to be in Kansas).

Back to the bus terminal. Contiguous with the waiting area to the east is a small building that serves as the ticket office. Here one buys fares to places outside the immediate service are of Quepos/Manuel Antonio including rural areas such as Naranjito and Londres (God knows why they would name a town in the middle of the jungle “London” – I’ll have to look into it) The terminal also serves towns and cities such as Jaco, Puntarenas, and San Jose and the town at the Panama border.

Similarly, to the west of the waiting area is the servicio building (WC to you Europeans) described previously in an earlier chronicle. It is usually well attended by a full bodied lady who is reputedly also a Vice-Mayor of Quepos.

Beyond the immediate areas east and west of the terminal are more markets and restaurants where one can buy everything from jewelry to knapsacks to fresh ceviche, those little pieces of fish and shrimp marinated in a cold vinaigrette that “cooks” them at the same time. Ceviche is as common in Quepos and Costa Rica as cheese steaks are in Philly. Cevicherias (defined in Webster as a place where one buys ceviche) abound everywhere and the one in the east side market area is one of the best.  

The fun part in using the bus terminal comes in guessing which of 2 or 3 buses, all marked “Manuel Antonio” or “ML Antonio” will actually be the one to next head up the hill on the half hour. Don’t expect a speaker to announce “Bus to Manuel Antonio now boarding at dock 3”, it ain’t gonna happen. Neither can you use a bus driver inside one of the units as a guide since they practice a very effective form of hide and seek, disappearing into the shops until just a very few minutes before departure. Should a returning bus driver make his appearance and mount a bus different from where the line has taken form, the line immediately shifts in a scramble mode to the bus with the driver.

Then there’s the lateral arabesque, which is what happened to me this morning. The line dutifully formed at one of the two docked M.A. buses hoping it would be the 8:30. At 8:28 a third bus pulled in behind the docked buses near Main Street and about 25 meters from the formed line. This new bus immediately became the designated bus. Of course, this precipitated a scramble from the disfavored bus and also required a small hop down from the dock piers (about 18 to 30 inches no steps, no rail). People were walking briskly across the bus parking lot towards the favored bus as other buses were pulling out. We all simply walked around the back of a bus trying to back out, neither the bus nor the people giving in to each other. Where’s OSHA when you really need them?

A friend of mine has coined the morning bus process “Beach Bus Bingo”. An apt term methinks.

Spanish –German Style

GG was so busy trying to get healthy the first two months living here that taking Spanish lessons was not high on his priorities. I’m much better now and have no more excuses to not begin lessons, so I signed up two weeks ago for two 1½ hour one-on-one lessons per week with a fellow named German Tom.

Born in Germany as the nickname suggests, Tom has lived 28 years in Quepos. I mean, that’s like before they even had paved roads here, let alone two lane bridges. He is fluent in several languages and runs a school called T.I.Q. The meaning of the acronym escapes me for the moment. Tom is orderly, detailed in his teaching approach and he assigns rigorous homework. Very German (“You vill do ze work, und you vil like it!). I must confess that secretly I’m making a great effort not to ask the question: “So, Tomas, tell me, vhat dit your fadder do durink ze vwar…?”

As I see it, I have some advantages in learning the language: (1) an ability to mimic sounds easily (I’ve been a verbal copy-cat since high school), (2) a pretty good grounding in Latin from parochial high school, and there is a great similarity in regular verb conjugation for the two languages, and (3) a smattering of French from living in Brussels, again where there are some similarities in words, although not often enough and too often with different endings.     

After two lessons and four months exposure to the vernacular here, my first reaction is that Spanish is more complex than I had originally thought. It is a rich language with an extensive vocabulary, sometimes subtle shading in meanings between two different words and with many other words employed with the same spelling in different sentences but carrying different meanings depending on the context. Add to that an extensive set of rules for pronunciation, more exception to some rules than conformity, and the frequent use of seven and eight syllable words (passionately [4]  becomes apassionadamente [8]) and one begins to understand why Spanish is more comfortably spoken in a rhythmic, even sing-songy way. It just sounds better that way and allows for better pronunciation of all those syllables.

Neccessito practicar todas los dias. (I’m trying to put an hour into it every day)

Seagulls & Segall  

There is a point in riding the bus to the beach where, all of a sudden, the forest opens up to show a patch of shoreline, a great vista of Pacific ocean and numerous large and small volcanic rock islands just off the public beach (Playa Espadilla) of Manual Antonio. The largest of these rock islands is about 2 kilometers off shore to the West/North-West.  (Incidentally, all my numbers are subject to correction or adjustment – I just like to make them up in order to enhance perspective for those who are analytically inclined such as engineering has-beens’ like myself). My guesstimate is the island runs as much as a kilometer North to South, a half klick East to West and maybe is 25 to 35 meters high (meters are long yards for those of you from Rio Linda).

On a recent bus ride to the beach, I was looking forward to seeing that special view, and did, but was surprised to see a very large, sleek boat parked near the east side of the big rock. After spending a few minutes inspecting the boat from the beach and convincing myself it wasn’t a cruise ship, I estimated its length to be 110-120 feet. We’ll use English units here because, as you will see, the boat is from the U.S. and the owner is American. A couple of days later I was having a sandwich at Sargento Garcia, that bastion of American ex-patriots and other assorted refugees, when I met a tug boat captain of 30 years, who knew boats much better than I and who corrected my estimate to 135 feet. He named the manufacturer which, of course, has totally escaped by feeble, aging brain. He put the cost of such a yacht at $15 to $20 million depending on the options chosen, with a normal compliment of crew in the 6-10 range.

A couple of days later the yacht had disappeared and I mentioned it to my purveyor of umbrellas and beach chairs. “Oh, that boat belonged to Steven Segall”, says he (sic – Segall is my spelling, hope it works). Steven and his entourage had de-yachted to visit Manuel Antonio National Park to chase monkeys and disturb sloths. Guess I missed the landing and re-embarking which occurred on the main beach.

I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of Mr. Segall’s. His movies seem to me to be a constant striving for new ways to break bones and terminate supposed bad guys in the bloodiest of ways. Plots seem thin or even non-existent, in the best manner of, and conformity to, the modern Hollywood action thriller venue. There must be quite a following for these flicks, nevertheless, for him to be able to afford such a dingy. I guess I’m just jealous.

Pugilistic Contrast

Very recently I went to San Jose to visit with my cardiologist to learn if he had come up with anything new to correct. The answer is not yet but he’ll keep trying, he’s dedicated.

Standing at the aforementioned Quepos bus station at 5:40 in the AM waiting for the San Jose Directo, I struck up a conversation with a Tico gentlemen. Struck-up-a-conversation is a little strong for what happened. On a scale of 1-10, his command of English was a 1.5 and my effort at Spanish was maybe a 3. It’s times like this that keep me motivated to keep learning Espanol. The bus pulled in before we could bring the conversation beyond which was the right bus.

As it turned out I had drawn seat #5 and my new friend had seat #6. So we renewed the conversation and I began to study him in more detail. He was about 160-70 cm (5’6”) and I would say no more than 55-60 kilos (~130 lbs). He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt that revealed very well formed biceps and he didn’t seem to have an ounce of fat on him. One of those wiry little people, I thought.

As the conversation progressed in Spanglish, I learned he had a small business in electronic and electrical repair that he runs out of his home in San Jose and that he’d been on a job in Quepos to repair a large motor. He’s 46, (still, successfully) married and has five kids ranging from 9-17, four daughters and a son. Lots of mouths to feed, in any language. He exhibited a nearly constant smile and he glowed a bit when he talked about his family. His name is Roger.

Then he dropped the interesting part. He had been Costa Rica National Boxing Champion from 1988 to 1994. In addition, he had obtained four world championships during his career with fights in Cuba, Argentina, Spain and one other (the mind fails once more).  His lifetime record is 167 and 6. He was amateur and never turned professional, so he made almost no money, hence his need to repair motors and fix TV’s.

His full name is Roger Dehivy Miranda L. I’m not sure what the L. is, it just is. I’m invited to meet his family next time I’m in San Jose. He lives half way up one of the mountains that surrounds the Capitol City. We exchanged telephone numbers and Roger plans to be back in Quepos in a couple of weeks. Maybe we’ll have a casado together. Very, very nice, small, thin, wiry dude.

I couldn’t help but contrast the man Roger with the man Steven Segall. I’m not saying anything bad about Steven as I have no idea of his beliefs or his private lifestyle. It’s just interesting to me that both have put a huge amount of effort into careers (I gotta believe that training and practice and execution of 173 boxing matches is something one lives every hour of every day for years).

Some may believe boxing not to be the noblest of sports, as it can draw blood and sometimes cause injuries, but it is an ancient sport and when well run and supervised it is an art form. It just seems ironic to me that in today’s world, make believe killing and maiming is so handsomely profitable while practicing an art form is not. Of course, Roger made the choice to concentrate on his family rather than to go professional. What I like is that Roger has no regrets about his decision.


Pura Vida! y Solo Bueno!
Roberto de Quepos,El Gringo de Oro

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