watermelon in Tambor
Friday, March 3 2023
casita #12, Hotel El Jardin, Montezuma, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Today we'd be making our way back to Hurley, so I'd taken the day off work. But it began like any other, with me getting out of bed before 6:00am and taking my laptop to the pool t plink away at it as I always do. As is usually the case, one or more creatures in the night had knocked over both of the pool-area trash cans and spread the contents around. Maybe it was coatimundis, maybe it was raccoons. Or maybe it was dogs. It's also possible it was capuchin monkeys, though they'd be more likely to do it in the daytime.
When the guy who cleans the pool started doing his thing, I relocated to the front porch of our room, which is right there on the main road as it passes the most "urban" part of central Montezuma. It was actually a good place to watch the world go by. A sun-blasted older gentleman was out in the street, first sweeping it for some reason and then hosing it down to control dust. Meanwhile a number of young gringos were coming and going and sitting in various places at the youth hostel across the street. Eventually the sun rose above the trees and made the porch an unpleasant place to be. By then, though, the front desk was open and I could get coffee and Gretchen was awake, so I could make more of a commotion in the room.
Eventually both of us went out to sit by the pool to make the most of that experience, since the alternative was being in our dismal room. Unpleasant as it was, though, Gretchen said that if it was far away from the street and quiet, it would be a lot better. The expansive floor tile and ugly tongue-and-groove wooden ceiling (with recessed lighting) apparently wasn't a deal breaker for her.
Before leaving Montezuma, Gretchen and I went to the Montezuma Super to buy gifts for our housesitter Fern. I couldn't be trusted to get the right things; last time I'd bought coffee, for example, I'd been fooled by the greenwashing on a bag of coffee made by Britt (something of a Costa Rican coffee conglomerate). Gretchen spent far more time that I would have comparing the various things said on several different brands of fair trade coffees while I was urging her to just pick one with the cutest illustration of an animal on its label. She then did the same with chocolates.
Back at the casita, we packed up all our stuff, this time working to maximize the utility of our backpacks so we'd both be able to find things when we needed them under time constraints (such as in the aisle of an airplane) and also so we'd have as much usable space as possible. For me, this meant actually folding my clothes so they'd take up less room and putting chargers and headphones in easy-to-access places.
Then it was time to go. We loaded our stuff into a cab (a small and somewhat battered SUV with no air conditioning) and began our ride to Tambor. We started behind an amusing Rube Goldberg of a vehicle that resembled tiny dune buggy with absolutely all its inner workings exposed for all to see. It was having trouble climbing the steep escarpment leading out of Montezuma and our cab driver observed that it was "a piece of shit" (he said this in English) and that the driver was an Italian guy. "There are a lot of Italians in Montezuma," Gretchen remarked. Further up the hill, we passed a guy who was on a montain bike with only a little way to go to get to the top.
Somewhere along the way, Gretchen mentioned that it was looking like April, the lying narcissist who rented us our casita in Santa Teresa, was not going to be refunding us the money for the two weeks we'd paid for but not spent there, even though Gretchen knew for a fact that April had managed to rent it for at least one of those weeks. Gretchen had sent April messages asking when we could expected to receive the money, and at some point the messages were remaining unread. So then Gretchen sent April an email asking about the refund, and so far she had yet to respond. I suggested another step to take would be to say that I am an expert at SEO (Search Engine Optimization, a field of knowledge that all entrepreneurs are familiar with) and that if she doesn't pay us our fucking money then I will make a website detailing how unpleasant she is that will appear at the top of all searches for both her and her properties. And if April is block communication from Gretchen's email and WhatsApp addresses, I can communicate this with April directly. Unfortunately, Gretchen arranged the booking of the casita without using AirBnB as a way of saving on fees, which means we cannot turn to them for being defrauded by April. Perhaps she routinely has guests arrange their stays directly and then abuses them in hopes they'll leave early so she can then collect two rents simulataneously on one casita. Maybe this is actually a well-known scam, although it seems like it wouldn't be sustainable; eventually somebody defrauded in this way is going to be made enough to do something about it.
As we drew closer to Tambor, our cab driver was telling Gretchen (in Spanish) all about the many macaws that can often be seen flying about. I didn't see any, though I did see a single road-killed iguana. I hadn't been seeing much roadkill, perhaps due to the generally slow speeds that vehicles can drive on the roads, which, though better than they were four years ago, are still not all that good. There are also a lot of creatures living in the jungle and circling in the skies that quickly devour anything edible.
All of our experience with the Tambor airport had been arriving there; we'd never flown out of it before, so we didn't have the experience was waiting there to catch a puddle jumper. It's a tiny airport completely open to the outdoor air, with just a roof to provide shelter from the sun (and, in the wet season, the rain). There's just one desk at the entrance to the tarmac, and it serves as both the check-in desk and the gate counter. Today there were two employees working this desk, and both had laptops. Gretchen didn't have any ticketing artifacts for our flight back to San Jose, but that wasn't a problem. The employees just looked her up based on her passport identity, and when they found her in the system, they gave her two thick tickets made of wood (the purpose being to have something to give us that was so bulky that we wouldn't carry it away with us and could immediately be given to someone else once we boarded the plane). Though these airport employees clearly had some sort of internet access in order to look people up in databases, there was no public WiFi, which implies that if one lands at the Tambor airport you must either have pre-arranged for a reliable person to pick you up (which has been the case for us) or you need to have a cellphone with a Costa Rican cellular plan.
We had an hour to kill with no WiFi and no air conditioning, so we took a seat on the bench next to a pair of stylish young women from Argentina and Gretchen began reading from a Spanish-language book. And then a man came over offering the young women (and perhaps us as well) watermelon. We all thought he was trying to sell it, but no, it was free. If it was free watermelon, the young women definitely wanted some. So they followed him over to his truck, which was piled high with watermelons. There was also a vendor over there selling drinkable coffee in little paper cups. I joked that those poor women were now going to have to do something they'd have to live with for the rest of their lives just for some lousy watermelon. But, like any other day on the Nicoya Peninsula, it was a hot one, and watermelon was something just about anybody would be wanting. (Gretchen's an exception; she only eats it under extreme conditions because otherwise it's too similar to cucumber). But when the women came back, they were happily eating their watermelon, so Gretchen asked them why it was free. "Pura vida!" one of them exclaimed, wryling referencing Costa Rica's unofficial motto, "Estamos en Costa Rica!"
Then the watermelon guy came over again carrying more watermelon, saying (in both Spanish and English) that the watermelon was free for anyone who wanted some, and he pre-sliced some chunks of it and set them on the check-in desk/gate counter. I reached around and grabbed a piece. It was good, but it would've been better had come straight out of a refrigerator. (When I mentioned this to Gretchen, it reminded her of my infamous question about whether or not there was a "dipping sauce.")
And then a Green Airways plane landed. It took only a few minutes for it to disgorge its passengers, their bags to be unloaded, and their per-person tax to be collected. And then it was time for us to board that same plane, a full half hour earlier than Gretchen expected. (Few things delight her more than having to wait an unexpectedly short amount of time in an airport, while few things piss her off more than having to wait an unexpectedly long time in an airport. For someone like me who takes life as it comes, these feelings are much less extreme and are mostly related to the second-hand effects of Gretchen's joy or misery.)
As we boarded the plane (there are no metal detectors at the Tambor airport), we were told to help ourselves to water or beer from the cooler, so of course I grabbed an Imperial, though this time Gretchen and most everyone else went with water, since it wasn't even noon yet.
On the flight to San Jose, we passed over the Tortuga Islands, and we could see boats in neat arrangements around various off-shore rocks where Gretchen remembered snorkeling.
San Jose is on the Trans-American ridge, so the the temperature there is a little cooler than the Nicoya Peninsula. But unshaded walk from the local terminal to the international one was a little unpleasant. Once we were in the air-conditioned interior of the international terminal, it was the end of our experience in tropical conditions. I was already wearing long pants and socks (the latter mostly to prevent abrasion on my injured feet) but Gretchen would soon be changing into an outfit more suitable for March in the northern New Jersey.
Immigration went quickly, and then we were put through a standard international-grade security scan, one that made me remove the laptops from my backpack but not the shoes from my feet. Our main task once at our gate was to spend down the small amount of Costa Rican colones Gretchen had accumulated. I bought a cup of coffee, which got rid of most of it, and then Gretchen gave the last few coins to a woman cleaning the bathroom. Not too much interesting was happening at the gate, though there was a loud woman with a New Jersey accent berating her long-suffering husband from about fifty feet away.
As had been the case when Gretchen and I had flown from Newark, our seats were near the back of the plane, which meant the overhead luggage area might be full by the time we boarded if we boarded in the way protocol dictated. But there's an exploitable opportunity in the existing protocol, and it pertains to people with handicaps. Such people can board pretty much at any time no matter where their seats are. So we marched up and presented our boarding passes (QR codes on Gretchen's phone) much earlier than we were supposed to. But the guy at the gate didn't blink an eye, and we went directly on the plane. Gretchen had been all prepared with some bullshit phrase like "soy handicaptivo," but it was completely unnecessary. I felt a little dirty exploting a system designed for the less fortunate, but if it's going to be that easy, no hay problemo.
It turned out that the flight was full, so there was a stranger seated in the middle seat between us. When she boarded, we quickly arranged for her to get the window seat. Happily, she was a small woman, so she wouldn't be intruding into my space. Gretchen asked if I wanted an ambien and I said sure, and I took it straight away.
I was watching a comedic television series about commercialized space travel called Avenue 5 when the ambien kicked in, so I don't remember much about it other than that it wasn't actually very good. But Gretchen was watching it too and kept laughing out loud, so maybe it's better than I thought.
This was a newer plane than the one we'd been in on the way from Newark, and somehow they'd actually managed to make improvements comfort over time instead of just ratcheting down the available space. So I was able to last the whole flight sitting in that middle seat without constantly having to shift my body as I had on that flight a month earlier. Gretchen had forced me to drink a lot of water, so I did have to get up to go piss at some point, as did the small woman trapped in the window seat.
Once we landed at Newark, Gretchen and I ran as quickly as possible to get around all the people who had the fortune of getting off our plane before we were able to. Perhaps we were successful at this, because most of the people with us waiting in the immigration line had just arrived on a flight from West Africa and were mostly the holders of green cards. In stark contrast to the friendly no-frills Pura Vida vibe of the Tambor airport, our immigration line was presided over by an angry man who kept shouting like a drill sergeant, demanding that we have our passports out and that we put away our phones. Somehow he managed to make our first experience back in the Land of the Free feel like being in prison. This wouldn't've been so bad had the lines been moving at anything close to the way they'd been moving in Costa Rica. But no, it was taking as long as five minutes to process individuals, and there were only three or four immigration agents doing it. Eventually, though, we made it to the front, and the guy processing us managed to handle all of our immigration-related tasks in only about twenty seconds. He asked if we'd bought any alcohol and we said, truthfully, that we hadn't. As for customs, we didn't have to do anything for that at all except walk through it at a brisk pace.
Meanwhile Fern had driven our Subaru down to Newark with the dogs (as well as a friend who wanted to be dropped off at the airport), and we climbed in with her only a couple minutes after walking out into the brisk early-March conditions. (I got in the back with the dogs, who were delighted to see us after our month of being absent.) Temperatures were down around 38 degrees Fahrenheit and a light rain was falling. That rain would turn into snow somewhere near Newburgh.
On the drive up, we told Fern various stories from our trip, going into detail about how horrible April had been. We casually referred to her as "bitchslice," a term I coined based on "homeslice," a term used in the hip hop community to refer to a "homie," or someone (a friend or perhaps not) from the neighborhood. Gretchen and I use it instead as something of a pronoun or "what's his name," which comes in handy when a man's name isn't immediately accessible in our brains. "Bitchslice" is the female version of that, and isn't intended as a pejorative, though in this case we did intend it that way. Gretchen had used "bitchslice" in a message to Fern earlier in the month, and she'd actually Googled it. She hadn't found anyone else using it, though there is apparently a "dark metal" reinterpretation of the Spice Girls called the Slice Girls, and one of its members has the stage name "Bitch Slice." That's a long false-friend distance from the hip-hop origins of our term.
Gretchen tried to call the Plaza Diner to order spaghetti with marinara (the best in the Hudson Valley!) for us to pick up in New Paltz, but for some reason (the snow?) they were closed. And Moon Burger in Kingston (which isn't open 24 hours a day) was already closed. So we had to give up on picking up something to eat.
Fern had already arranged her next place to stay, so she wouldn't even be spending the night in our guest room tonight. It was around 11pm when she headed out, leaving us in our big clean house with our dogs and cats. By this point neither of us were very hungry, but we did snack a little on Pop Corners with hummus.
Fern had left us with a mostly-empty refrigerator, and she'd also made a lot of use of both cooking and heating oil (somehow she'd managed to burn through nearly the whole 250 gallon tank). She'd also burned most (though not all) of the firewood I'd stacked up for her, and it had mostly been unseasonably warm while we were gone. This had me wondering if perhaps some glitch with my solar hot water system had caused it to circulate boiler-heated water through the panel. But, judging from the temperature of the pipes when I felt them, it hadn't been doing that this evening.
The Tambor Airport check-in desk/gate counter with the entrance to the tarmac and the planes. There's no air conditioning, WiFi, or metal detector, but there is free watermelon. Note the vaping device casually left by one of the employees near his laptop. Click to enlarge.
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