Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Paradise Lost

This story must be related seamlessly:

Paradise was quickly lost.

First the wonderful cabinas we rented rose in temperature, both day and night, to a level of heat one can only compare to that experienced by a caged captive of the Japanese army in Borneo during WWII. This was not made better by the small and pathetic fan perched on the crest of the roof rafters, nor our hostess' grave caution that, while we slept, should we fail to batten down all the thick, wooden, Kansas strength storm hatches, we would be robbed or killed by bandits who may lay in wait in the nearby national park.

Then came the bugs: C´s legs and mine resembled those of a smallpox victim despite the generous application of repellants both natural and Deet based. Worst of all the insects here don´t hurt when they bite, rather you just wake up all red, poxed and bumpy. Then the burning starts. After that the itching...

C and I go snorkelling and the sunscreen washes off. We were burnt to a crisp like toast. C already hated the stifling heat and thereafter could barely dress her soundly barbequed very white Britanic-Hebredian backside.

We thus wisely elected to flee Cahuita to Panama on the morning bus to a promising air conditioned hotel. Unfortunately as I went to pay our bill the Swiss ex-pat hotel owner exclaimed in great shock that, despite the fact that she had said when we checked in, (NOTE: advertises doesn't take Credit Cards) that you can pay in travellers' cheques she "never imagined the cheques would be in Canadian currency!Such a thing is never heard of!!!" Remember Scotiabank is the #1 bank now in CR.

She sounds exactly like "Inga" as played by Teri Garr in 'Young Frankenstein' and there is no bank nor any ATM in Cahuita.

Thus off to all the stores in town: the hardware, the weird liquor mart etc...who advertise that they cash TCs as well as exchange money. All readily agree to take said TCs until they realize they were, yes, in Canadian currency. I feel as though I am attempting to pay some snooty shopclerk at Holt & Renfrew with loose change in Albanian Lekes.

I thus told 'Inga' that we would have to go to Puerto Vieljo, a long bus ride (10 kilometres away, this is CR afterall) to the Costa Rican National Bank to cash the damned TCs. We waited for the bus which arrived promptly after an hour. We then went to Vieljo and lined up in the bank for 30 minutes after being strip searched for weapons, only to be told upon inspection of our TCs, that the bank cashes TCs in US dollars only.

We went to the ATM and dangerously overdrew C´s account.

An 1 1/2 hour wait for the return bus and back to Cahuita where 'Inga' was anxiously waiting for us though our entire earthly belongings were neatly packed and locked up sitting in the cabina.

As I began to make payment she strongly implied that as we had failed to vacate the room by the required 11 am check out time posted, we would have to pay for yet another day.

Note 'hotel ist morte': it is empty; no one there in the other cabinas. I reply 'flushed' (let's just say by this time I was really pissed off, broiling hot, sweating and fed the hell up) that I was not paying for another night; that we had left the hotel at 10 am; that she knew we had to go to Vieljo and that she knew we couldn´t make it back until now at 2:00 pm due to the damn bus schedules.

As C pointed out (trying to smooth things over) it wasn't like we slept in or something; we had in fact spent the last many hours trying desperately to pay her.

We thus left Cahuita as my name was now mud amongst the ex-pat hotel community.

Off to Puerto Vieljo. Things went well at first. A musty but expensive "LUXURY" unit which at least had air conditioning for C's relief, owned by some weird American kid who sounded like Jack from 'Lost' yet behaved like 'crazy Kevin' from 'The Young and the Restless'. He was an American "Doogie Howser" property owner in a poor country.

Now to the denouement. On the day of our arrival we were propositioned by the local mover and shaker of financial beach trade in PV, a certain "Andrea" who not only made a living by braiding hair and (she said) giving massages but also, we learned later, hooking people up with ganja sellers in the town.

C eagerly volunteered me for a massage knowing rightly that I enjoy them, given my crappy back. But I was a tad reticent, Andrea having no credentials, training or, well even a decent business card (I didn't think a home pencil-crayoned red, yellow and green hair braiding ad, fingered many times and quite crumpled with a wrong phone number she corrected with a pen seemed expressed an air of professionalism). But I decided to put my uptightness aside and, as C said, 'go with the flow'. This was after all, the other coast of CR: the 'vibe' coast.

Andrea requested a 5000 Colone deposit and promised to meet me for a massage at our hotel at 4:30 pm the following day.

At about 5:30 pm she arrived. Andrea insisted we go to our hotel room for the massage. I felt "odd" or as the Irish would say more precisley "off".

First it was the worst massage I have ever experienced. C hates giving massages and will, when I really whine, kind of poke me with her fingers a bit in the back for about a minute, but C was a veritable Shiatsu master compared to Andrea's lame 'touching' with Johnson's Baby Lotion.

Odd again; 20 minutes into my '1 hour massage' Andrea she said she had to go out for a 'refreshment to take a break'. She made a clumsy attempt to get out the patio door which opened on to the street. I redirected her to the main door. C came in a few minutes later asking me how the massage went. I told her that Andrea was taking a break and we were apparently mid-massage.

"Andrea is sitting at the bar having a beer", C replied breaking out laughing.

5 minutes later Andrea returned, Corona in hand, and gave me a further 10 minute perfunctory 'massage' after which she suddenly left.

I told C I was completely weirded out.

I have had many massages but none so awkwardly...strange. I advised C I had a bad feeling like as if Andrea was 'casing the joint'. I triple locked the door with the many deadbolts and locked all our luggage. I checked the door, left all the lights on so it looked like we were there and we went out.

We returned about an hour later after a drink in maintown. I saw light sparking from the room. I lightly pressed the heavy wood and it swung wide like a saloon door. Both deadbolts were firmly in lock position. They had shifted the entire doorframe to break into the room. Our bags had been rifled through top to bottom.

When we told Doogie Hotelier he advised us that Andrea had been banned from a number of local hotels and bars for petty thievery. The 'good news' he said, was that they didn't find anything and therefore "probably won't come back".

We decided we would leave the next day.

The rather random bus cancellations and our vacilations meant that we couldn´t get out of the stifling heat of PV by bus, until 1:30 pm. Thus we wouldn't get into San Jose until after dark. Not a good thing on a Saturday night.

Doogie Hotelier had told me that the price to Puerto Limon by way of taxi was $25 US firm. We had the hotel call a taxi and an air conditioned SUV arrived shortly all smart and grey. However after stowing our stuff the driver told me the price was in fact $40 US. Firm.

Beth, thus outraged, pulled the luggage out of the boot and stormed down the dirt road to demonstrate her protest at this rip off, C struggling behind, her pack in tow.

We then got to the dead, baked centre of PV.

No one was outside except local and expat maddies who seem to wheel about the dirt streets on bicycles from the 40s and US surfer kids who've come to smoke Ganja. They are the modern version of 'mad dogs and Englishmen'.

The heat was unbearable.

There was no bus for another two hours. C was feeling sick. I thus decided we should call, again, a cab.

When he arrived he advised that the fare was $40 US, this clearly agreed to by all taxis that serve stupid Gringas in PV. We weren't in a position to bargain anymore.

Our new cab however was no AC Minivan, rather it's a "Flintstones" car. Many of the taxis in CR are crap but this one took the cake:the windows were all cracked or broken, no door handles or window handles; seats or seat belts were not apparent, the front hood and trunk seemed to be held together by string; C and I put our luggage in the boot which was covered in a thick paste of old motor oil and for all we knew, the blood of murdered coca dealers whose bodies had been disposed of in one of the two oceans surrounding CR.

Rattling along in 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' off we went to Puerto Limon at a top speed of 20 km an hour as the car was unable to break past the 40 km barrier. Neither the speedometer nor odometer worked; not that I guess it really mattered.

After some time in the 'vehicle' both C and I felt our 'bottoms' getting really hot, like we were sitting on blacksmith iron. We mentioned this to each other and after investigation found that the molten car exhaust was venting through the rusted trunk into the back seats and cooking our backsides. Realizing the eminent risks of carbon monoxide poisoning we spent the remainder of the journey with our heads thrust out the crack of the back windows lest we suffocate, adjusting our daypacks so they didn't catch fire.

At one juncture our driver pulled in to a gas station to buy exactly $5.00 US of gas, but left the car running while "filling up" lest the car stall and never again start. I wasn't sure whether to run from the vehicle, imagining a 'Starsky and Hutch' like explosion or sit and hope that "prayer" and/or New Age 'visualization' could supress the laws of physics.

But in our little tinker car we made it to Puerto Limon rattling into the bus station just as the San Jose was about to pull out.

I gave our driver the biggest tip I think, I've ever given anyone but I am not sure if it was to fix his car, or award him for his courage.

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