This visit to Costa Rica has a level of surreality that no other one has had.
I have written page after page in my journal as I move through each day with the goal of arriving back in the States with my sanity intact and my friend in alive and in tow.
Yesterday we drove over the mountain range in between Atenas, where Jeri and Jay live, to Palmares, a little town where Jeri had a friend she wanted to visit. The road was extremely steep and narrow. As we traveled my friends recalled how it was before it was paved a few years previously, when they made the same journey on the bus. All I could think was I was terribly grateful we never met that bus on any of the hairpin turns we traversed on our journey!
Our transport was a small car, a Precia with two doors and ticking valves that heroically carried us up the steep twisting road that wound like the garter snake in my garden through coffee plantations, barrios filled with little houses with sad people sitting in the yard, their eyes as empty as the windows of their broken down homes.
Turn a corner, ascend a bit more and the poor barrios would be replaced by the home of someone prosperous, with beautiful gardens that you could glimpse through the barred gaps in the thick, beautifully painted concrete walls that surrounded them.
The contrasts were extreme.
What I find interesting is that the sense of realism is also extreme. Despite the contrasts, the people who are poor are still cared for by the health care system. And while they wish they also had money and prosperity, you don’t get a sense of resentment or hate from them. No, the roads are not taken care of well, but as Douglas said to me last night “If you only pay $25 in taxes every year, you don’t complain about the lack of road maintenance.”
This very realistic statement illustrates the attitude of pretty much every one around. And while everyone knows that you had better keep your hand on your cell phone, if you don’t and it is stolen at the bar when you turn your head to talk and joke with your other inebriated friend, you just laugh resignedly and get another one and wish you had all your numbers written down somewhere….
Heard a story on that subject from a person whom I shall call Diego for no other reason than that I like that name. He was lamenting the loss of his cell phone, which disappeared exactly that way when the young lady he was having a drink with appropriated his phone and then gently evaporated into the night.
“Oh,” he said laughing at himself and the situation. “That phone was old, you know. It didn’t take pictures or anything, but it worked. I had it with me when I fell in the pool a few months ago. I dried it out but I never could get it to charge up the battery any more because the place where you plug in the charger was all filled up with dirt and rust and stuff. So I bought another battery, and whenever I was around someone that had a phone like mine, I’d say “Hey, can I use your phone for a while to charge my battery?” And they’d let me put it in their phone and plug it in and so I kept that phone going that way.” He smiled sardonically. ” So, whoever stole my phone isn’t going to have a lot of luck with it, they’re going to find out it doesn’t work!” He laughed merrily, took another drink of his Imperial lager, and added, “But it had all my numbers in it! Now I have to start collecting them all again.” Then he went off into the back room where we were visiting to have another line of coke.
Somehow, I feel like that story sort of encapsulates the whole atmosphere and attitude of the ex-patriate community in the tropics. Rueful realism, joie de vivir, substance abuse; deep friendships and ties forged in moments as kindred spirits meet and recognize each other.
There is amazing kindness and camaraderie. People help each other get through stuff. One day person A is in the money while person B has lost his job, his cell phone and is broke. So person A has person B over to dinner, makes sure he has food and a little something to drink, starts asking around and helping B make connections so he can get his feet back under him. Person A does this because last year Person C did the same for him and next week when person B has got it back together, he will bring some meat over and they will barbecue and have a nice time. And they both know that if Person A ever needs help, Person B will be there for him in the same way.
If someone has had an epic party the night before and is wandering around in the early hours of the morning still drunk, no one expects them to feel bad about it. They have no shame and they laugh at their own condition along with their companions. Then they may do one of two things: go off to their room to sleep it off, or have a little glass of wine along with their coffee to start the day off right. Whichever they choose, everyone around applauds the choice and congratulates them for having had such a good time the night before.
To quote Kurt Vonnegut: “So it goes.”