I should be able to speak Spanish. At least enough to ask for avocado and use basic, if improperly conjugated, verbs. But all five years of Spanish yielded was the ability to translate what people are saying twenty minutes after they’ve said it. When I was lost the other day, a lovely lady on a motorbike rode up and said “Quieres cambiar?” I smiled uncertainly until she drove away. Three minutes after she left, the slowly-churning cogs clicked into place. “WAIT, YES! I DO WANT A RIDE! SI! SI! Shit.”
I trudged on and cursed my youthful self for sleeping peacefully through fifth period.
At customs, I greeted the official looking dude behind the counter with a cheery “Hola!” He looked surprised and said, “You speak Spanish!” With an exclamation point, as though my hello was so fluent-sounding that he just assumed, and was excited by the prospect. I felt like I was betraying his punctuation when I admitted “Nope. That’s all I’ve got.” After changing a few dollars into colones, I tried to thank the guy behind the counter in Italian, French, and English. Basically, every language I have any familiarity with except Spanish.
Linguistic and navigational mishaps aside, I love it here. My office is a balcony that overlooks the ocean and a jungle full of howler monkeys. I eat mangos for breakfast and make coffee with the Costa Rican equivalent of the french press, which is basically a sock hanging from a mini wooden scaffold. You pour hot water into the sock and it drips coffee into your mug. The beaches are full of perfect shells and it’s so humid the bananas sweat, which is gross, but not as gross as the “Don’t put it in the toilet unless you’ve eaten it first” rule. Don’t ask.
I love the details of new countries, details you only really become familiar with if you stop moving long enough to see them. Or if you’re someone other than me, someone who lives in a place for eight months and when asked if you ever use the hot tub in the backyard doesn’t say, “There’s a hot tub?”
All The Minutiae That Has Entertained Me Thusfar
Blonde hair is unusual here. People straight up stare. It’s not unpleasant, they just gaze at me in gentle confusion, the way you might look at a penguin waddling down Madison Avenue.
Last night I saw my first firefly. I was charmed. Less charming are the seven billion other insects, each of which has personally welcomed me to the country. They find my legs quite tasty and thank me for bringing them along.
A team of abandoned monkeys lives on the hillside where I’m staying. They used to serve as guard animals with a ferocious pitbull until their owner decided that was a stupid idea. They attack the sweet Husky that lives here by barking at it and throwing sticks. If you’ve never seen a monkey bark at a dog before, I highly recommend it.
Mango peels go here. I’ve been advised not to throw them near the house, lest the howler monkeys come say hello at 4 a.m.
Fresh vegetables are hard to come by. Beans and cheese and rice and tortillas are not. If you eat in a restaurant, the salad options are green, chicken, and fish.
Very few people have washers and dryers. Most clean their clothes by hand on one of those ridged boards you see in pioneer movies. I now know my answer to the “Would you rather pay fifteen dollars to do one load of laundry or spend most of your time being grungy?” question.
Dogs are everywhere and none of them are on leashes. They’re all friendly and come running up if you so much as glance their way. If you pet them and tell them what a nice dog they are, they’ll walk along the beach with you for awhile before wandering off to sniff an abandoned surf board.
Strange birds populate the trees by the beach. They’re black and rather formidable, like a cross between a turkey and a vulture. I’m all proud of my description, but they’re probably called turkey vultures. Of the genus younotascleverasyouthinkus.
My knowledge of ornithology is limited to peacocks and chicken sandwiches at Popeye’s.