Away (finally!)

San Jose Travel Blog

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Costa Rican courtyard

Chapter Two: Central America


god!  this guy is singing me german polka songs


...Not: "Si Senora"  but: "Ziggy-Zaggi Ziggy-Zaggi. Hoy Hoy Hoy." Hmnn: few too many rum 'n cokes, I figure, tho, to be honest, he took the guess work out of it, since for the past three hours I've been at his bar and he's been pouring. 


He found me at the airport.  Swung me a line about the costs of getting to town:   "San Jose is a long vay away. Come to my place.  It vill be cheeper, ya.  In the long run."


                      i know a thing er two about long runs


But I come anyway.  Wait!! The people. Aren't I in Costa Rica now?  ...the Latin Americans? Where have they gone?


                   where am i?


I think it's probably because I had no agenda.  No set plan. "What do you mean you're going down there and you have no idea where you're staying?  Don't you have a hotel booked?  Nothing?  You're nuts!  Didn't I always say it?  "She's nuts" I'd say.  Why just the other day I was telling one of the girls at work..."


Step outta the climate controlled 747 & what're you faced with?  A German pensionne owner hustling tourists.  Filling spaces. No one around to translate your garbled Spanglish. "Donde esta el bus?  No.  No.  I don't want a taxi.  A bus.  Donde esta... A BUS STOP?"


                                   ...the need of a bed for the night...

                                   ...your mother's words...

                                   ...the ringing in your teeth... 


"Your name, Gayle,"  he aspirates the vowel, dividing my name into syllables--Gay-hell.  "You know it means horny in Deutch." 


                              you've got to be kidding


I begin to seriously doubt the programme behind this moment.  Is there a camera somewhere?  Long scan of the upper corners and the pink washed adobe of the walls.  The fake thatch overhang of the bar.  Even the fronds of the palm to my right.  Is that a coconut?


                                   where am i?


This German guy & his pseudo-hippy, proto-redneck partner from San Francisco have set up a chain of just-above-budget accommodations from Vancouver to New Caledonia.  They're catering to the yuppie backpacker with conveniences like real hot water & working flush toilets. This little courtyard construction just east of the San Jose city hub is the latest in their empire. 


                      as if background music, an illegal immigrant

                      hums wordless elegies from within a closet sized kitchen

                      [a Nicaraguan woman, I think]

                      she is preparing fish 'n rice for the evening meal


& other pale skinned, moose-mopped backpackers are scattered like coins about the place, conversing in slightly strangled contortions of non-native English. I catch accents that sound Dutch, German, Swedish, & French, but I am not interested in listening.  Mostly I am entranced by the way their lips move as their tongues struggle to find codes.


"You vant to stay?" my host asks, sly.  "You vant to work here, maybe.  We need someone to take over."  Seems they set up these little businesses and leave them in the capable hands of a "well trained" manager. 


"Capable, like me?" I am unable to resist; he is so obvious it's actually quite charming.


"Off corz." he breathes, "Because you are so beautiful, and so intelligent." He pours me another rum.


Next morning, with me heading off to the true dives that constitute bordello-crossed authenticity,  my German host pouts just enuff to take the edge off how he cheats me three percent on the official exchange rate.


                                        all these people


San Jose's dusty street corners are laced with the grime of uncollected dreams. Picking my boot from the elastic pull of yet another pile of sticky gum and old peal melted refuse, I wipe the heat from my eyes and shift the weight of the pack on my shoulders. 


            foot loose and fancy free




The American elections are on an old black and white TV at the reception just outside my door.  This place has walls too pocked and grimy to be described as paper thin. It's the TV or the couple next door, I figure, & since I can't quite tell if they're having fun or hurting each other behind  door number 15,  I choose the TV.


"Clinton'll win," one traveller is confident.


"Do the Costa Ricans like the Democrats?" I ask the guy behind the counter. 


He grunts, concentrating.  Results are coming in; the Spanish announcers break for commentary.  Intermittently the screen flickers & the picture is reduced to a buzz of grey noise.  Energy output in San Jose has been erratic at best. & the commentators seem unusually animated. ...I'm not picking up much [my Spanish stretching from thin to nothingness]; but even I know that somewhere north of centre, things are happening.  Is it just co-incidence that I'm here at this time?  A time when the world seems rapt in the symbolism of another's country's democratic right?  Is it co-incidence? I can't tell even where I am. I seem to be travelling with my shadow as protective armour. Wrapped cocoon; awaiting transformation.  Kafka's anti-hero awoke one day to find himself a bug.  Hesitant glance at my surroundings. This place crawls with cockroaches.


The reception counter is cracked & coffee stained.  The guy behind has slick dark hair, & he's picking his teeth.  His fingers are yellowed with nicotine.  The television has antenna ears splayed as if they'd been impaled, & it's missing the knob for volume.  There is a torn & fraying couch against the far wall of the hall-area.  One of the couch's wooden arms is broken; on the slivered edges of the remaining stump are ragged threads and bits of cloth that got left behind whenever someone, too comfortable, forgot to observe proper care. Above the reception desk is a brown board hand-marked with the numbers of rooms.  With each number is a nail for a key ring.  A sign above the board announces: 

         "No mete ruido."


The television flashes to a shot of George Bush, catching my gaze & holding it a hostile captive. His shoulders are uncharacteristically hunched over.  I muse the significance of that image, translated electronically to millions of viewers world-wide. Each pair of eyes determined to care. ...Then the screen flashes to the grey noise of a lost signal. 


"Fuck."  Mutters a fellow traveller, a grungy guy with four days growth on his chin & the skinny hands of a seasoned wanderer--fingers used to handling the brown bottles of each country's cervessa. He wants to know what's happening with the elections.  Not recognizing my accent as Canadian, he assumes I must be eager too.


            things are happenin' north of centre

                ...& they aren't...


Deciding to take my chances elsewhere, I escape to the sounds of Next Door. Step into my room, flick on the dreary shadeless light bulb, then turn it off cuz it only illuminates the dinge and build'up on the sheets that cover the cot. 


The room itself is a partitioned concept design: Post-Nuclear-Holocaust. Reminds me of the strains of Kate Bush's: "Arrrh! give me something to breathe!" It's an elongated cube, windowless, barely five feet wide.


Tired, I climb over my pack, sit on the edge of the cot, drag fingers thru my tangled hair, & contemplate the novel fashion in which I had been awakened to my surroundings by that morning's 5:00 am earthquake. 


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Costa Rican courtyard
Costa Rican courtyard
San Jose
photo by: Isoinspira