This is part eleven in my ongoing Friday feature to regale the story of how I came to live here and why I decided to stay. If you've just joined us, I've posted ten links to the previous ten parts below if you'd like to catch up. I have been asked if this is a true story or if there've been any embellishments, and I'd like to make it very clear that every part of this story is in fact true with the exception of some of the names.
I still had some time off from work to get my bearings and gather some supplies, so I decided to take advantage of that time the next morning when I woke up completely on my own. The phone call from the night before still had me a little spooked, the voice on the other end sounded so shaken and so desperate as if she were surrounded by ghosts. I surmised that it was either a wrong number or intended for the previous tenant of my apartment because nobody would've been able to anticipate my first day there, right? Either way, I tried to put it to the back of my mind is much as possible.
There was no food in the house other than a bag of coffee and the leftovers from the previous morning, so I decided to take a walk to the little open air market that I saw the day before with Katya. It wasn't very busy, and I was able to communicate with what little Spanish Mrs. Domino had managed to nail into my head in the 10th and 11th grades. At least the Spanish spoken here in Costa Rica is the actual Spanish Spanish, and not the Latin American dialect. So what little I had was pretty functional along with lucid hand gestures to procure a couple of pineapples, some enormous blackberries that they call "moras" down here, a chicken that was killed plucked and dressed for me as I watched, some onions and garlic (critical), a stack of corn tortillas, and some citrus.
I really wanted to get that still warm chicken into refrigerator as quick as possible, but I stopped by the local convenience store before I got there. It was called "Super Manfred", and it was run by a very pleasant Chinese family that lived in the apartment up above it. I would eventually become friends with the owner who was a very soft-spoken and gentle hearted guy who always had something nice to say whatever you came in. I introduced myself and told him that I was living in the third-floor apartment of the building next door while I scoped around for something to drink. I didn't want something familiar, but growing up in South Florida you see all kinds of beverages from Latin America anyway so I didn't think I was going to be too surprised. I settled on some Cokes in glass bottles along with a sixpack of beer with a black eagle emblazoned on it and the simple name "Imperial" written on it in Gothic letters. Sounds cool...
I still only had dollars on me, and I would later learn just how badly I was fleeced at the market 20 min. prior. I didn't really know anything about the exchange rate and I ended up paying about twice what I should have. I knew those people were too friendly... I paid for my drinks and hung around for a while while talking to Manfred, the owner. He and his family had just moved there from Guangzhou, spoke perfect English, and were willing to exchange my dollars for colones at a fair rate. I thought it was adorable how they had a crib set up behind the counter where their one-year-old baby was sitting and playing with a calculator. We shook hands, and I took off back to my apartment to try my hand at a feast.
I decided to roast the chicken with some orange juice and garlic, then shred it up and make tacos with the tortillas. Sure as hell didn't turn out bad at all. I had cable TV, so I decided to check out what Costa Rican television was like while I cooked. Each channel was weirder than the next and ran the range from bullfighting that wasn't bullfighting inasmuch as it was crowding around and teasing an enraged bull in a huge group, and hoping you're not the one he takes his frustration out on. Other channels followed pretty much the same business model as the Hispanic channels in Florida, mostly music videos and dance shows hosted by a ridiculously curvy woman accompanied by a dirty middle-aged clown. As I got higher in the channel list, American cable channels with Spanish subtitles appeared which was a cool thing. I brushed up on my Spanish that night by watching Blade 3 and Revenge of the Sith with Spanish subtitles.
I was amazed at how good the Coke tasted, and I looked down at the label and saw that it was made with sugar and not the high fructose corn syrup that seems to have ruined every taste from my American childhood. It actually tasted like something and not just bubbly-burney sweetness. Then I tried the beer... Costa Rica has some of the strictest food laws in the world. Nothing artificial can go into anything that is sold on Tico soil. This means high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, and all the literally tens of thousands of other preservatives that make up such a big part of the average American's diet. And the beer was no exception. It had a malty taste that you can actually pick out fermented grain with. And it went down smoother than a root beer.
That's where I made my mistake...
In the amazement of how good, light, and brilliant this beer was, I had "sampled" the entire sixpack in the span of about an hour and a half. Anakin Skywalker being burned alive in lava at the end of Revenge of the Sith was a lot funnier than it should've been, and my screaming laughing fit resulted in a knock at my door by my neighbor. I opened the door see a small unassuming man in round eyeglasses and a ridiculously loud tropical print shirt. He introduced himself as Gordon, and he had moved there from Canada about three years prior. He was an accountant who was able to work remotely from his apartment here, and he had fully surrendered to the laid-back lifestyle of gringo-hood.
"Are you all right in there, bud?", he asked after shaking my hand. "I thought I heard a woman screaming!"
"No, dude that was me laughing, getting to watch Hayden Christiansen get three limbs chopped off and then set on fire was the best possible way to end the prequel trilogy. I think it was George Lucas's way of saying 'sorry' to all of us he made wait for 16 years." I explained. That brought on a chuckle of agreement as he was about my age as well, and was just as resentful for being greeted with Jar Jar Binks after Return of the Jedi as I was.
"Yeah, I saw that was on, but I'm heading to the bar down the street here in a little bit." he said. The hotel about three blocks down was run by an American, and was a popular hangout for foreigners and residents who were too leery to hang out in the more third world drinking establishments frequented by the locals. He invited me to come along, and I agreed as I was kind of eager to get out of the cocoon of my cushy apartment for a bit anyway.
It was about a five-minute walk from the complex to the hotel. It was decorated with somewhat of a Castilian Spanish motif with multiple balconies and vines of lilies covering the entire façade. Upon walking into the open air bar behind the building, the sound of a flamenco style guitar solo greeted our ears. There were about 20 or so people there, all laughing and engaged in lively conversation. Gordon told me that this was the "Cheers" of the Rhormoser embassy district, and that most of its patrons were either ex-pats or staff from the various European and Asian embassies. Not many tourists knew about this place, nor did they usually come to Costa Rica for a tour of the Embassy district.
Behind the bar was a pretty Tica with curly blonde hair and a smile that extracted tips from older patrons like the gravitational pull of a black hole. Gordon and I sat down at the bar next to a middle-aged German man who was trying to sing along with the guitar player in an effort to impress the barmaid. I'm sure if he had attempted to form actual words, he would've fared better. I ordered another cold Imperial, and Gordon congratulated me on finding the national beer on my first night, and ordered the same.
As the night progressed, we got somehow ensnared into a group conversation with a Brit, an Australian, and a Japanese man about China's emergence as a world power. For some reason, every Western and industrial nation has a nagging fear about China. Apparently the Japanese were the most afraid because they were closest to them as I learned from my new friend, Akira. The Australian guy who went by his last name, Cooper, was quick to assess what would be the most likely scenario should China invade Japan.
"Well you know those Yanks would probably ass fuck them with a nuclear strike before they even reached Osaka, they have been dying to use those things for years." He proclaimed while looking at me as though I would nod in approval.
The Brit, Walter, interjected. "Well it's not like they're likely to invade Japan for no reason, are they? I mean all of their manufacturing is in China, and that would mean the Chinese were killing off their best customers.
"Well I think my country are their best customers, let me tell you guys about a magical little place called Walmart...." I added.
So we spent the next 45 min. or so debating the best way to deal with 1 billion people should they decide to become militant. Then as we pretty much came to the conclusion of giving peace a chance, the sound of glass breaking on ceramic tile broke us out of our little debate. The blonde barmaid was trying to pick up the pieces of a mug that had just shattered while a slovenly drunken bald man with a Super Mario mustache was hanging over her and yelling. "When I'm talking to you, I want to see your tits forward and your mouth shut!!" he bellowed while kicking pieces of the broken mug all over the bar. She was crouched down picking up glass shards and chasing the ones that he had just kicked.
"Aw, hell no!" I said as I got out of my chair, walked over to Super Mario, and put him in an arm bar that is known in military and martial arts circles as a "chicken wing". This arm lock restrains the opponent by twisting their wrist a certain way behind their back that resembles the wing of a plucked rooster. I then walked him up to the bar and pinned him against it.
"What the hell is your problem, ass hole? You think just because you are on vacation from Dicktown Pennsylvania to a foreign country you have the right to stop being a human being? Now say you're sorry to this girl before I take more time to think about how pissed off I am that we come from the same place." I calmly said in his ear. My oldest and most debilitating weaknesses in this life are babies, and damsels in distress. One will make me sit in a room making goofy faces and sounds for hours on end, and the other I can't resist stepping in to help...and usually getting myself in trouble.
I looked over at the table I was just at, and all four guys were looking at me, mouths agape in shock. I had gotten over there pretty quickly, and apparently nobody expected an American with a belly full of cerveza would act so impulsively. It would appear that the world has much to learn about us as well... You don't think we came up with the idea of walking on the moon while sober, do you? JFK's dad was a moonshine runner for crissakes. The barmaid had a face as white as a ghost and was looking at me with the same amount of shock as my friends, seemingly too petrified to even rise up from her kneeling position.
I felt something metallic bump against the back of my head with just enough force to hurt, and I turned my head to see the barrel of a shotgun about an inch and a half from my face. On the other end of that shotgun was a large Latin man with a scowl on his face that told me that I might have not judged the situation very correctly at all. Coming out of the door of the hotel were three other men with 12 gauge shotguns drawn and pointed at me as well.
"Let go of me, you piece of shit! My guys are going to blow your fucking head off!" the mustachioed man hissed with spit flying out of his mouth at every consonant.
I realized that I made a serious mistake, this was the owner of the hotel. And I had just made him look like a complete idiot in front of his entire staff. Would I have done this while sober? Well I certainly would've said something, but probably not had taken physical action like this. I knew that I was screwed. The second I let this guy out of this hold, I would most likely be killed. Even as drunk as I was, that thought was scary enough to send adrenaline into every corner of my nervous system. I knew I had to talk my way out of this, or my family back in the States were going to get a very sad letter whenever the CR bureaucracy got around to sending it. I had to think fast.
"Well I'm not sure how familiar you are on modern armaments, but your average shotgun is powerful enough to take out a pretty big area of people. How sure are you that 'your guys' won't end up hitting you? Are you as nice to them as you are to her?" I asked, still maintaining the compliance hold.
"Oh shit! Stop! Detante!! Basta!!" he screamed, and the men lowered their shotguns.
Gordon and Cooper both intervened as well by telling Ron, the owner that I had no idea who he was and that I was just coming to the recuse of a woman I had thought was in trouble. Things cooled down from that point and I released my hold on the guy's arm. He gathered what dignity he had left and actually apologized to Helena, the barmaid, for being such a dick. He then made a note to arm his security personnel with pistols instead of shotguns. The night was still young, but I had make it awkward for everyone and it was clear that sitting there carrying on as normal just didn't feel right. So Akira suggested that we go someplace else, and Cooper said he had just the place in mind.
So we all half-stumbled out of the hotel courtyard bar, and made our way to a line of taxis in front of the building. Just before I got out however, I was stopped by Helena who grabbed my face and gave me one of the most skillful and passionate kisses I had ever received up to that day. She then smiled, turned, and walked back into the bar where she had just revived her first apology from that pig of a man since she started working there. All five of us piled into the taxi, and Cooper rambled off an address to the taxista who looked back at him with a questioning stare.
We then sped off into the tropical night with Cooper reassuring us all in that confident Aussie way of his that this new place we were going was "ten times more fun."
SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!