The only bus to Puriscal and the nearest bank passes by Choza del Mundo’s roadside gate at five in the morning. Kimmy woke me up at 4:30 and already had coffee ready. She said as I bleary eyed poured tapa dulce ( pure sugar cane syrup) into my steaming cup that the way to know when to get up is the first motorcycle that passes by every morning. He’s like clockwork, more reliable than a rooster. I gathered up my backpack and made sure I had all my good stuff for weathering a day in town. The bus trip to Puriscal is two plus hours on a pretty rough road. The only bus back leaves at three in the afternoon and you have to be at the bus stop an hour early on Saturdays because everyone and their dog are making their weekly shopping trip to town. Since I’m 4 kilometers from the end of the line, when I get on there are maybe 3 people on the bus. But as we get closer and closer to Puriscal, stop by stop, the bus fills to overflowing with country folk all dressed up for a day on the town. Now you may be imagining farmers with overalls and cowboy hats and ladies with calf length skirts and frilly blouses but you’d be wrong. Even in rural Costa Rica there is a fashion standard influenced by television. Every day tico’s take their lunch and siesta and tune in to their soap operas to watch big breasted actresses walk around finely furnished sets with doting rico suave gentlemen. The episodes are not missed by either tico men or women, generally speaking.
So what I saw when I arrived in Puriscal was a town bustling with bust busting out of tight, brightly colored tank tops, skin tight jeans that choke the ankles and continue on into precarious 4 inch stilletto high heels. Now mind you, women old and young, fat and thin, are dressed in this way, showing off their goods and doing it with verve even though the uneven sidewalks and raised driveways and potholes and divets and gutters and slopes and drop off’s all conspire to make precarious work of graceful perambulation. But miraculously these voluptuous women glide through the traffic and weave in and out of congestion like ballet dancers in toe shoes, their chests bobbing like hyperactive jellyfish threatening to pop out with each bounce. I’m not kidding. It was heavenly.
I hit the bank for some much needed cash and felt like spending some immediately, to consume for the sake of consuming, to feel the power of exchange, money for something, punctuated with a receipt, to remember what it’s like to shop and open my wallet and see the wad of money. It had been awhile, man. I popped into the first store I came to. I wandered and observed the uniqueness of items for sale. It’s fascinating to see the packaging, read the labels, note the graphics, logos, all the same as packaging and marketing and branding I’m familiar with but skewed in a unique way that says something about convention and style particular to this culture. I was approached by a sales lady eventually, rattling off rapid Spanish I couldn’t make out but it’s easy to say she asked me if there was anything she could help me find. Of course I began to make hand gestures and began miming and threw out the word “implemente” and “similar” and pointed at the box of pencils and said con pintura, then pulled out my sketch book and pointed to an ink drawing and said “implemente por constructar pictura, negro agua”. I know now that last bit means toilet water. Totally gringo of me, in fact, it was so miserable that the sales lady dipped her head toward me and said” pintura de china”, without the question intonation, the rise in tone at the end that indicates universally that you are asking something. No, she said it with a lowering tone at the end, as if it were a statement, as one would when you are put out, frustrated by an idiot waving in the air indecipherable sign language and literally wasting your time. So I bought some ink pens and the box of pencils that are shiny black, and I’m really happy I got them. . But whoa!, I’m making gringo’s to come a bit more of a reputation to overcome and I have decided that either I get more fluent in Spanish or take someone with me that is, or crawl into the jungle and hide until 2012 after which it won’t matter anymore, surely…right?
Afterwards, I popped into a bakery that had racks behind plastic doors that enabled me to serve myself, which was a relief, and took my chorizo pastry to the counter and waited for eye contact. I heard quatro cientos, which is 400 colones. I handed over four 100 colones brass coins and said “gracias” and heard “buenas dias” and end of eye contact happened and then we both turned and I was free to go. I had acquired a little grub! And without incident!. The score was now 1-1. It was going to be like that was it? Yes, it would be like that. It was going to be a very long day.
Right. My wandering became a walk about town, using my headphones as a visual cue to leave me out of any possible communication event sure to end in total disaster. It worked brilliantly, even roving peddlers of pirated DVD’s and toothrushes ignored me. On my tour by foot of what is a really average looking town, I revisited the most distinctive visual feature around, what I’ll call the haunted cathedral. It is surrounded by chain link fence warning folks to stay out. The building is seriously damaged from an earthquake and looks fantastic, like it’s about to collapse. If another quake struck, even a minor one, It’d go. For sure. Here it is:
From there I walked into the market. I had a look around at the vegetable stands, the meat vendors, and decided to buy three chicharones, deep fried chunks of pork which made me nostalgic for Quetzal Imports, a small corner store back home, where I would get rice and beans as sides, all ‘to go’ and then make pork tacos at the studio. I gnawed on the pork and found a bench and watched people for a while. I hit the internet cafe and loaded some pics to the blog and edited some photos for two hours until I was bored. Then headed for the market again to see if I could order lunch without getting slapped.
I sat down in a tiny soda, which is what they call a mini convenience store/cafe here, and an old man walked up to the table and stared me down, waiting for me to speak. Now of course I hadn’t a clue what could be ordered so I glanced into the kitchen and still had no idea what to say and the old man wasn’t helping, he just silently stared with disdain as I floundered, which is exactly what he expected out of me I bet. So I said necessito mi Coka Cola. And he slowly walked to the fridge and pulled out a bottle and popped the top, brought it over to me and without words, placed it and a glass on my table, then walked away. I suppose he could have been a mute. Maybe I have the whole situation wrong. After a few minutes one of the ladies in the kitchen came over and asked me if I would like something and I thought here we go again…I ordered tomato salad with cabbage and mayonaise and answered her in nods and si’s and gracias and a minute later was chowing down on it with a side of rice.
Right now Solin is handling the chicken that Giles, the English bloke just killed, a giant black and gray rooster that ran as soon as it was pointed at, as though it knew immediately that it was done for. They brought it back from Solin’s in a white sack, and pulled it out by it’s feet. Kimmy wanted us to take it out back and so we did. Giles took the rooster and held it tightly to his chest, crouched down and then with a massive twisting motion, rung it’s neck. I took photos and watched as the bird was laid down so we could get a good closeup pic of what would become dinner. But it was then that the bird flapped and squawked spastically, apparently not dead at all. Solin came over and took the chicken and cut it’s neck to drain the blood and it struggled again. It was horrific but I stood there like a camera, without judgment or sympathy or anything, just an objective observation of something as necessary as eating. Giles said that he had never killed anything in his life and that if he didn’t kill this bird, he would have no license to eat meat. I thought about it for a bit and realized that the only animal I have had a hand in killing for food is loads of trout. I’ve never killed a chicken and it didn’t look that easy to do so I don’t imagine I’ll be doing it anytime soon. They boiled some water and are now plucking the bird after scalding it, making it easier to de-feather. It’s going to become a delicious chicken soup over the next few hours. I’m starved right now so I can’t wait…
Back in Puriscal, on Saturday I rove around picking up vegetables and tuna and other items on the shopping list Kimmy gave me. I was having trouble finding the full propane tank we need badly back at the Choza. I went into the Hardware store on the corner by the bus stop and ask there. A cute tico office girl offers to call the gas man and indicates he’ll deliver. It’s $60 US or 30,500 colones.I wait ten minutes and he arrives and hands me a recipt. I’ve got an hour before the bus arrives so with a heavy backpack and a propane tank in tow, I need to find a place to sit and wait. What better place than the second story bar/restaurant above the bus stop with a great view of the town and a cold beer.
The bus was so full that it took an extra hour to get home with all the stops. Its great to watch the locals meet their familes when they get off, each grabbing bags of this and bundles of that and heading off chattering excitedly. Makes me wish I had a happy home to go to and I feel lonely for a bit.
Giles and Katie and Kimmy are luxuriating after a meal when I finally arrive at the Choza. I’m starved so I crack a can of tuna. I’m exhausted but someone suggests we head down to Bar Mastatal for a few cervezas and dancing. I shower and change and from somewhere, a surge of energy picks me up and we head out, down the dark road with flashlights and headlamps, through the croaking frogs, the peppering of blue light spider eye reflections in the grass at the roadside, through the giant bamboo, past the Cangreja National park entrance, down the steep hill and past the cemetery, into Mastatal town where there is a gathering at the bar of maybe 20 people, half gringo’s from Canada, the States, England, the other half Ticos. I watch as Kimmy dances salsa with her tico friend who is a great dancer, and I decide then and there that I’m going to learn to dance like that. Katie dances with him as well and there are couple of Tico’s really tearing it up on the dance floor, making everyone else look clumsy. The pair are fantastic, I can’t do anything but sit and watch, mesmerized by the sexy movements of hips and all the rest.
We walk back after the bar closed at 1 am and hike the 2.7 miles uphill, like a bunch of drunk sailors, laughing loudly at the hilarity of our condition and arrive at the Choza around 2:30. I’m so tired I wander into my room to take off my shoes and face plant onto the bed cross ways and woke up in that same position 5 hours later.
This is what I came to Costa Rica for, new experiences, new connections, great food, new friends, and time to think and reflect. And make art. But most important is the metamorphosis of change in me that is happening. I am not mired or trapped or tortured by circumstances in SLC. I’m reborn, newborn, engaging the simple art of living simply.