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"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"

Episode 4 - December 2008

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Orinal vs Sanitario – A Study in The Value of Work

Orinal vs Sanitario, What's in a Word, First Spanish Meeting, Getting Acclimated, At The Beach

One morning, while waiting for the bus to Manuel Antonio, our hero was sitting on a bench in the outside waiting area at the central bus terminal munching on fresh, warm pastries from the Muswanni Bakery and sipping rich, dark Costa Rican coffee, sin la crema, sin azucar.

Continental breakfast doesn’t get much better than this.

Scanning the scene casually, while littering the ground with golden flakes of mille-feuille (look that up in your translator, but be sure to use French to English), my eyes lighted upon a sign over the rest room attendant’s desk. Like many good directional signs here, it was hand-written in heavy black ink on uncoated cardboard. The sign proclaimed: “Orinal 150 C(olones), Sanatario 200 C”.

So, where’s the Oficina de Discriminacion Sexuelle when you need them. Just by the mere fact that some of us must squat rather than stand shouldn’t result in the squatter paying 50 Colones more… or should it? This blatant sexism wouldn’t hold up for long in a place like, for example, the bowels of Rhode Island, but here in machismo-land, it’s A-OK. I suspect the unintended discrimination results from focusing on the work required to get the job done, not the people being served. Of course, if you are of the male gender and want to use the toilet for the other reason, that is be a squatter too, it will cost you 200 C also.

In justification, there’s the somewhat added work related to the bowls versus the urinals. When you choose the Sanitario, the attendant has thoughtfully provided pre-measured lengths of toilet paper which can be picked up after paying the toll. I suspect this is done not only for reasons of convenience and thoughtfulness but also it serves to inherently control who uses what facility, and it probably also helps to keep the operation on budget. The appropriate pre-measurement is constant and accomplished by wrapping the paper around the hand for about six o ten circumferences; the size of the potential tush being irrelevant. Ah Costa Rica, thy name is simplicity.

Over the following days I noticed several attendants servicing this facility and it was pointed out to me that one lady attendant with a large girth and who sports one of the strongest lady mustache-goatee displays I’d ever seen, was also a Vice-Mayor of Quepos. There you have it, not only discrimination but patronage, run wild. This is why some people become Libertarians, thought I.

What’s in a Word 

A lot, if you don’t know what you are talking about. It was only a couple of weeks earlier that I was looking over my new abode and discussing my needs with the landlady, Sra. Picado (it’s Sigura now that we’re better acquainted). The place is neat, clean and functional but everything is virtually colorless as many rentals are, with off-white walls, beige floor tiles and beige or light brown drapes, table clothes etc. I was waxing on about how I’d like more color and would be buying some accoutrements that would accent the unit better. In the course of expounding on this topic, I employed my best pig Spanish.

I couldn’t bring to mind the Spanish word for colors (“colores” – ko-lor-ez) for the life of me. I reached into my better knowledge of French for the word for colors (“couleurs” or koo-lures) and hoped it would work in this instance. But I became so focused in getting the message across and so enthusiastic in reciting it that evidently I was slurring the word into something that sounded like koo-loos which may not be the correct spelling but which sounds very close in Spanish to the endearing word “asshole”.

So there I was walking around the apartment proclaiming how much I liked assholes while Sigura had this nervous smile on her face and her 15 year old son was doing everything he could to contain an explosion into laughter. He left me wondering why he was so amused. In retrospect, I see now that Davide, his English being so good, could have corrected me at any time but was enjoying the exchange way too much to butt in (pun unintentional but befitting). In his eyes I should have read: “Tenemos un otro Gringo loco, Senores”.        

First Spanish Meeting

This period afforded our hero the opportunity to attend his first regularly scheduled Spanish-speaking meeting of Alcoholicos Anonymos. A Tico friend from the English speaking meeting at the Mono Azul accompanied me. It’s held at the new Gaia hotel on Manuel Antonio at 6PM (that’s after dark here) four days per week. The 6PM meeting started around 6:10 and was attended by about 20-25 people including a few English speaking residents with some years residence who have attained a definite proficiency in Spanish.

I ended up sitting next to a Tico gentleman named Carlos who is in the real estate business. The breakdown of industrious behavior here is similar to Sarasota; a focus on the hospitality industry, real estate, and tourist amusements dominate. There is very little manufacturing but significant agricultural exports, chiefly las frutas and palm oil extracts. So you run into real estate people all the time. Carlos asked if I would be able to understand what was going oin Spanish and I said I strongly doubted it, adding a brief reference to the koo-loos incident for emphasis.

Carlos kindly offered to translate for me, which turned out to be no small task as the Spanish meetings here run 1½ hours and this one didn’t stop until almost 7:45. My new friend translated the words of the individual group members into English for me as they shared (everyone got an opportunity to share) and my share back into Spanish from English for them. Talk about carrying the message.

My impressions were the group was quite young and included many beginners so the average sobriety was fairly low. There was a strong experience with drogas shared among the group. Drugs are fairly cheap here, so they tell me, and easily available. It’s not unusual to be approached on the street, particularly at night, for a wide selection of products. In the two months that I’ve been here I’ve been offered drugs twice in broad daylight, once downtown near the fire station and once at the beach (more on this below).

Not unlike in the U.S., young people here are coming into the rooms with a mixed experience of alcohol and drugs. The presence of drug experience in the meetings is even more prevalent here because of the small number of available AA meetings and also because NA meetings are even more scarce. Some members are trying hard to establish a regular offering of NA.

As far as the content of the meeting, there were no surprises. The same fears, anger and resentments caused by alcoholism were talked about here. And the same miracle that is AA could be seen in the faces of those attending, particularly those enjoying some length of sobriety. I am always amazed at the similarity of the alcoholism problem no matter where I go and equally amazed at the ability of this program to transcend language and culture.

Regresso pronto, Senores, I will.

Getting “Acclimated”

Those of you who have been following the Chronicles will recall that our hero suffered a three week bout of bronchitis that was brought on by excessive use of really good cigars and exacerbated by a mysterious, invisible and silent force that seemed to emanate from the jungle. The bronchitis was solved with a mixture of cortisone shots, nebulizer treatments and antibiotics, but remnants of the jungle effect remain, including shortness of breadth and swollen ankles.

Having been trained in the scientific method as a yoot (this may be a somewhat grandiose description of the engineering school format), I was determined to clinically observe the jungle force and try to describe its parameters. Finding the time to make these observations was made easier by the fact that I couldn’t sleep most nights due to the apnea effect caused by said mysterious force. OK, let’s call it something to make it simple to refer to – for now it’s STUFF. Readers are encouraged to submit acronyms to describe this phenomenon along with their definitions.

Observations on STUFF so far:

  • Symptoms:  Bronchial/lung congestion, a heaviness in the chest causing shortness of breadth, sometimes severe. Reduced lung capacity causes an apnea effect – as breathing slows down to allow entry into the sleep mode, breathing stops causing a reflexive reaction to wake one up. There also is a swelling in the ankles, feet and calves.
  • Worse time of the day for STUFF: late evening to middle of the night (2-4 AM). One can sense an increase in airborne particulates coating the nose lining as the night progresses and breathing becomes correspondingly more difficult. Two people told me of their second-hand knowledge or belief that there are flora in the jungle which are particularly active in night pollination and that these special plants are more active in the rainy season.
  • Super high humidity, such as rainy days, increases, that is, worsens the effect. Reducing humidity by any means, such as an air conditioner lessens the effect and improves breathing capability but does not come close to eliminating the problem. The last three days here, the first of this dry season, have been drier and somewhat lower humidity and seem to support this conclusion. Some people say the effect will diminish significantly as the dry season progresses. When put to the question of how does one prevent the condition from reoccurring next wet season, there was no response.

Treatment recommendations (and, as reported before in the Chronicles, everyone from the pharmacy clerk to the pharmacist to the doctor has a suggestion) have included: (1) various inhalers, (2) five days of Prednisone and (3) increasing the intake of Gallo y Pinto (just kidding).

I might do something radical next week and consult a real doctor who is reported to be above average in his treatment successes.  

At The Beach

The last time I was at the beach I was sitting there finishing off a Columbian “cucho”, a sweet-paste filled donut, when a young gentlemen walking buy asked if I’d like to top off the pastry with some marijuana. I smiled and stated a firm decline; he smiled indifferently and continued down the beach looking for business.

The hawkers at the main beach in Manuel Antonio offer a plethora of products for your comfort and entertainment, including beer and soda, fresh pineapple, whole coconut opened with a machete, little bags of extracted “pipas” (the juice of a fresh coconut), the sweet donuts I mentioned previously, beach towels, snow cones (my favorite when mixed with thick leche) and sunglasses. You can also get a full lunch delivered to you from one of the restaurants up at the street level for a small added fee to the runner. There are bonita ceramic bowls and pots offered by what seems like a dozen different sales people, but they all seem to carry a similar design.  It’s possible they’re all made at the same factory in Belize but the purveyors of these items insist they’re all made in Costa Rica.

Then there are the massage tents and the various concessions such as the jet-skis, parasailing, snorkeling and kayaks. 

Some people bristle at the almost constant attention provided by the entrepreneurs of the sand but I like the attention and banter of it all and it gives me an opportunity to practice my feeble Spanish. That reminds me, Bobo, it’s about time you set up formal Spanish lessons so you can avoid being a kooloo in the future. Good idea Kahuna (what was that about schizophrenia?).


Pura Vida Y Solo Bueno, Amigos!

Roberto de Quepos,
El Kahuna

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