Tropical Cancer—Happiness


“…we are all going direct to Heaven…”

(Written fifteen months into our “luxury camping” experience.)

June, 2012

My mother once told me: “Happiness isn’t necessarily at the end of a hard decision.” She was correct to specify “necessarily…” (She also told me Saint Germaine incarnated as a poodle and peed on George Bush’s foot. You had to separate the wheat from the chaff with Ma.) Moving to Costa Rica was one of those hard decisions. With all our circumstances pointing the way out of the US, it was still difficult to let go of the land of our birth. Even as recently as a few weeks ago I mentioned to Babe while we were driving that we’d have to borrow Winter clothes if we ever want to take a vacation in snow country again. My Hawaiian Babe said, and I quote, “Fuck snow. You’re never seeing that shit again!” 

R-r-r-rip! I nearly swerved into a ditch.

What? Huh? I hadn’t counted on that when we left the States and it came as quite a shock to realize it may be true. No more snow? I grew up with snow! After I calmed down, I thought: Yeah. Who needs snow and frozen feet any more?

It’s been intermittently sunny, clear, warm, thunderous, rainy, windy and chilly the last couple days. After fifteen months, our residency papers still aren’t ready but there’s hope they will be with-in 30 days. With the advent of some unexpected expenses, money is tight again. We don’t go to restaurants any more, or indeed, even go off the mountain except for supplies. Going to the bar is our sole extravagance, where I play pool and drink coffee with whiskey while Babe plays penny-ante online poker. Some of our neighbors do the same, and we all have a good time. We joke and laugh and say stupid or wise things. The music plays and a hundred toads sing in croaky counter-point. News is passed from one person to the next. The cue ball flies off the table…

And sometimes there’s gossip. Did you hear about so-and-so? He was arrested for drinking 100 beers and skinny-dipping in someone’s pool.

So what’s wrong with that? He then drove away in someone else’s car. Upon hindsight, as they hauled him off to jail, he probably thought it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Yesterday I caught three talapias for dinner. Okay one was a suicide (it jumped out of the tank), and some helpful Tico workers showed me how to catch the other two, and how to hang them on a stick for carrying. We grabbed salad vegetables and herbs from the community food table, added a bottle of Malbec and a fresh loaf of sourdough bread Mr. Underdog made for us and Babe put together a delicious dinner.

At the moment I’m sitting next to our fire pit—contemplating whether I should make a fire. The weather is overcast, comfortable and calm. Lowland visibility is clear to the horizon. The view is every shade of green with a spattering of yellow and three ribbons of shimmering rivers emptying into the blue Pacific. Isle de Caño is a sharply defined bump in the ocean. Spanish Caravan plays in the background. Next to me is a cup of coffee and a beer. As the sun descends it floods the landscape with orange highlights. A hill in the distance turns golden, then back to old forest green. A cloud is wrapped in rosy pink swathes of the sunset. A thick, gray mist encroaches from the east as the west explodes with ember-colored thunderheads moving quickly south to north. The sun pushes the greens, grays and soft blues of the ocean along the surface as it sets—smearing the water with currents in pastel colors. I can almost hear it sizzle as it slides off the Terraba river into the ocean. Sheets of dark rain reach the horizon…

Yes, I decide, it’s a good night for a bonfire.

And I know as I sit here, Ma, that you were right. Happiness isn’t necessarily at the end of a hard decision, but sometimes it is.


Rules of Costa Rica

Rule Number Fourteen: Don’t expect good directions.

The most common phrase of the GPS device we rented was: Go 300 meters and make a U-turn. At one point it asked us to get on the highway where there was no entrance, insisting we make 18 about-faces until we accidentally found the road ourselves (and acted as if it were correct the whole time). For ten bucks a day who needs this abuse? Mostly you’re guided to landmarks—or where a landmark used to be, maybe four generations ago.

The following is a nearly perfect transcription of a conversation Babe had on the phone with a receptionist at a hotel we were trying to find in San Jose (a place with few street signs and fewer house numbers), who had advised us to call for directions when we were nearby.

Babe: “Hola!” (Blah-blah-blah) “…we’re in town. Can you guide us to your front door?”

Reception: “Ah… uh… yes. Is dificil.” Pause.

Longer pause. “What did he say?” Babe asked.

“He said it’s difficult—”

Reception: “You know there are not [sic] tall buildings in Costa Rica?”

Babe looked to me for help. I had been behind the wheel for seven hours and not in the mood for trick questions. I shrugged and kept driving in the hopes of accidentally finding the place, or a descriptive landmark, or a sign saying I was still in Central America.

Babe (into phone): “Ok-a-a-ay…”

Reception: “Yes, so, yes. Do you see any tall buildings near you?”

What, did he think we drove to Manhattan? Ultimately, he suggested we follow a taxi.


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