March 6, 2011–San Jose

“Tomorrow we make you a tour of San Jose. Amber will come by for you in the morning.”
This is what H said to me yesterday.

“What time is morning? Like ten. Or eleven?”

“Yes.”

I awake and immediately set to work on my presentation notes, worried that the day will be consumed by the tour and meetings. At 10 AM I look up and realize I’m hungry. Will the woman named Amber show up right at 10? I decide this is unlikely and it is safe to risk a short foray to find something to eat, though I leave a message with the reception desk on my way out. The hotel is located on a pedestrian mall, and I walk for several bl

ocks but find nothing but fast food. Not wanting a breakfast burrito from Subway or Burger King, I settled for a pastery from the bakery at a small supermarket. It has a flakey crust and a only a disappointing dab of chicken inside, but it will tide me over.

Back in my room, 11AM comes and goes. So does 12 PM. I decide to give up, and go out on my own. But as I pass the reception desk,the attendant holds out a note: Tattiana and Micheala are coming for me. One is wearing a red shirt. I should meet them at the Plaza Cultural at 12:30.

The Plaza Cultural is 30 seconds from my hotel, so I arrive early. I decide to try my luck at an ATM with my bank card I got from the USC credit union at USC when I signed up three years ago. I’ve been thinking of possible passwords I might have chosen—and hoping the ATM won’t eat my card if they are all wrong. But then, as I am nestled in the glass alcove, away from the traffic, looking at the glowing screen, another number pops into my mind.

I punch it in.

Yes!

I pull out some cash, and feeling flush and still hungry, I make my way to a storefront alongside the Plaza and order a churro. I’m told I have to order four, so I do, thinking I can share them with my new friends when they arrive.

12:30. After a few minutes, I approach two women , one of whom is wearing a red blouse, and I ask if they are Tattiana and Michaela. They look at me as if I am crazy. I guess they are not. A cel phone would make all of this easier, but I don’t have one yet. I ask someone to help me make a call at a bank of pay phones. Tattiana answers and tells me to wait a little longer—until 1 PM.

1:15. They arrive. Tattiana has hair dyed a magenta highlighted red, Micheala is smaller and darker with a different accent. They are starving, says Tattiana, and they need to go to the bank. I earn some points by producing the two now-cool churros and a few basic Spanish sentences.

“Oh you speak some Spanish, I had no idea what we were going to do.”

It soon becomes obvious that there is more that I can’t understand than what I can, but we manage well enough—standing in line at the bank, I find out that Michaela is from Argentina and has been staying at Tattiana’s house, which seems to be in a suburb of the city, a place she describes as “more rural, more beautiful,” than San Jose. Last night they stayed up talking late into the night like a couple of “brujas” they tell me, laughing. Tattiana has a teenage son, and I glean that he is at home, and she doesn’t like to leave him home alone. I can’t figure out when and how today’s plans of touring me around have come to include her. How did Amber at 10 AM become Tattiana at 1 PM? I have a feeling it has to do with H, and that, although friendly, Tattiana has been a bit inconvenienced by having to come into the city on the bus in the middle of her Sunday to entertain me. It is only a feeling though. My Spanish is not good enough to phrase these questions in a way that won’t elicit polite lies. She finds us a Soda—a restaurant that serves typical Costa Rican food—not fancy, and not expensive. We each order a Casado, which means “married” and is a combination of foods—in this case, beans, rice, egg, salad, cooked bananas and a drink. I’m very happy with the choice, and vow to eat at these places as often as possible during my stay. During lunch, Tattiana’s phone rings. She answers, rolls her eyes, talks fast. I intuit that the caller is H, she tells him we are having lunch, and where. I can only guess at what is happening, but I think he is worried about the place, whether it is not nice enough, and that maybe she is saying that we are where she can afford to eat.

As we leave the restaurant, Tattiana asks me how long I am to stay at the hotel, and I tell here that H has said I will be moving the next day, but I don’t know where. She says I should come and stay at her place. She wants all the girls to come to her place. It will be crowded, because the house is very small, but outside is more beautiful than here, and it would be fun to have all the girls together. I have no idea what other girls she is referring to, but I say that sounds fine, and am relieved to have plan.

After lunch we walk to a Cultural Center, where there seems to be some kind of festival happening. We listen to a man sing for awhile. The topic of his songs seems to be political. They are lost on me. After a little while Tattiana escapes to have a cigarette. I look at Michaela. “Are you happy, or bored?” I asked. She chuckled and nods her head. We leave and wander through a nearby park. Tattiana says we are meeting with H at 5:30, after which she and Michaela will head home and H and I will go to dinner with some other people. It’s only 4 PM. I wonder if they are just babysitting, until I can be handed off. If so, I’d prefer to I return to the hotel, nap, and meet H on my own later. But I don’t know how to ask any questions that contain the word “if”. This requires a conditional verb, and I don’t know any. Eventually I gather, however, that they need to talk to H as well— many plans have not been articulated yet.

At a café, w meet with H and production designer name Runcel—he is Costa Rican, but has spent the last ten years working in Germany. They talk about make-up workshops as part of the feminist objective—this talk is fast and vehement, and I don’t understand the who is on what side of the controversy. Finally, the conversation turns our the upcoming plans. H says my workshop on the 9th at the university has not come through, but that he is still trying to put another location together for this day. I am secretly relieved, and tell him the second workshop can be just three hours, like the previous day. He says there are six reservations so far for my workshop on the 8th which will be at a place called CENAC at 2PM. I ask, as I do every time the opportunity arises, if a projector and a whiteboard have been arranged.

Yes, yes, no worries.

And, I ask, if it’s true that someone named Coral will translate?

H thinks, Coral might have a workshop of her own. There is another girl, Silvia, perfect English—who might be better.

Tattiana tells Horacio about her idea for the women to stay at her place, which spurs more conversation that I can’t understand—about buses and taxis and transporting our luggage. H explains to me that the café we are in is attached to the Teatro Salazar, which is where everyone will be tomorrow, setting up for the big show that will be followed by a gala party on the stage afterwards. Tomorrow I will check out of my hotel, and take my bags for the day to another hotel, which is where the group who has been to the Caribbean will be staying. He says I can leave the bags with one of the rooms of girls, get dressed there in the afternoon for the gala, and later move to where I will be staying. He says he thinks maybe staying with Tattiana is not the best, because her place is small and far away, but he does not volunteer any ideas for another place. Our group breaks up, and once again, dinner seems to be forgotten. I am tired, so not sad, although I am again a little hungry. Maybe that will be my state for much of this trip. Since I don’t have to come up with additional material, I devote my last waking hours to piecing together an employment history for my job application. Before I fall asleep, I check Facebook, and am surprised to see a post from H saying that our International Meeting in the Caribbean might have to be canceled, because people can’t come. This seems sad, since I have scheduled five extra days to accommodate the trip and the meeting, and I was looking forward to it, but for the moment I am too tired to contemplate it. I know that everything can change tomorrow.

March 5, Guanacaste-San Jose.

When I wake in the morning, the air is warm and close because I turned off the A.C. before I went to sleep. I breathe, feeling the lump of anxiety in my chest that has been my morning companion for the past several weeks. It’s not the same as fear, but the weight of things I must do seems to settle on me in the night and be sitting on me when I wake in the morning. Some people have cats who sit on their chests. I have anxiety.

On the way to the bus station I make chit-chat with the driver. He tells me my Spanish is good, my accent is good, that I am good looking, and do I have a husband? I say yes—but thank you for the nice compliments. I ask—Cumplido—is that the right word? He laughs, says they call it, piropo. It is like flattery. And it is apparently (from my experience, and according to the guide books) customary among Costa Rican men. These comments are not serious propositions, but little compliments. When I get to the bus station, I look up the word and it translates as “semi-precious jewels” and this seems perfect. Little verbal baubles cast in one’s direction. Conversations with too many of these always feel a little undignified to me, but I tend to get through them by saying “muy amable, muy generoso,” very kind, very generous, and the like. I don’t really particularly think so, but then, they don’t really think I am beautiful or really worth pursuing, so I figure that makes us a little bit even.

The station is an area with a roof but no walls. The landscape around us is dusty and dry. I’m happy to get a direct ticket, leaving in just a couple hours. I go to the little concession counter and order my first food, gallo pinto…a typical breakfast of eggs with rice and beans.

“Con natillo?” the woman asks.

I can’t remember what this is. “Uh, sure.”

When I see it I remembered, it is a kind of cream, and definitely makes the dry-ish beans and rice and egg more palatable.

As I sit at a little table, with my lap-top, eating my gallo pinto, I experience my first real sense of anticipation. I’m still nervous—my hands are shaking a little as I eat– but I am beginning to feel a sense of adventure, and the freedom that comes from being on my own, which I enjoy when I travel. I always miss Paul, like Linus misses his blanket—but in some situations, a blanket can turn out to be a wet one. Paul would not like gallo pinto very much, nor the fact that it is hot here, and there is no air-conditioning in the open air station. Whether the bus will have AC will be a matter of luck.

Luck is with me, and there is AC, but so little leg room that I can’t even cross my ankles. But every seat is full, so I feel lucky to be on the bus at all. My seatmate is a man who overseas construction projects, and for a year has been making the four hour commute each week. A young woman a few seats behind us and across the aisle. Plump, dressed in a tube top and shorts, her only traveling possession seems to be a purple cel phone. She smiles at me almost the whole trip. Whenever I glance back, she is looking at me. Sometimes she says to me “God walks with you.” I don’t know if this is a blessing, or an observation. The other people around look away as if a little embarrassed. With the language barrier it is hard to tell if she might be a mentally impaired, or if she is begging, and that is what makes people stiffen.

The four hours is long, but at last I debark at the station in San Jose. I look for someone who looks like they might be looking for me, but no one appears. A Caribbean Costa Rican man who speaks English keeps me company as go out in front of the station to wait. The young woman from the bus comes and stands there too. She tells the man she needs to get to the other bus station. He points to a taxi.

“I don’t have any money.” she says.”

“Well, then you can’t pay for a taxi,” he says.

She keeps standing there.

The man lends me his phone and I call Horacio. He picks up, “Indy! Where are you?”

I’m a little miffed, since I am exactly where he told me to be. “At the bus station, in front.”

“Which bus station?”

“Pulmitan.”

“Ah, Pulmitan! I’ll be right there. Ten minutes.”

I thank the man, and report that my friend will arrive in ten minutes. I give the young woman 2000 colones—about four bucks. She takes it without comment and climbs into a cab.

Each time a cab passes, the man, still standing next to me, asks, “Is that him? Is that your friend/” even though nothing close to ten minutes has passed. I am remembering how it is in Costa Rica—I am constantly in a state of confusion, about whether any given male is protective, or predatory—or both. What will this man do if Horacio doesn’t show up? Recommend a hotel where a friend works? Ask me out?

I don’t find out, as Horacio does show up, looking much the same as I remembered—long curly black hair and a face like Sartre, and the energy of an excited six year old. He is in a cab, which we take to the hotel, where he asks me to pay the driver. As I check into the hotel, he tells me the price is $50 dollars a night, but that I might have to change hotels on Monday because that’s when the discount ends. I haven’t seen him for a long time, I don’t want to quibble over money on the first day, so I don’t question this.

He tells me there is plan for dinner, but also, before that, he wants to take me to a café to meet R, who he explains is an ex-girlfriend, but whom he is living with still. He says they are trying to decide what to do next in the relationship. He says this as if he hopes they are getting back together. When I see her, she is beautiful. And because it is my experience, from know him, that he falls in love with beautiful women who don’t fall in love with him—at least for very long—I assume this is the situation…but I could be wrong.

We end up at Spoon, which I remember from my last visit. Something about the place annoys me. I think the English name, and the prices seem a little pretentious. I wonder if he really likes it, or if he’s chosen it as the closest thing to my comfort zone as an American. H and R have food and coffees, and I have water, and though I’m hungry, I just order a small dish, since this is just coffee, and we have plans for dinner. I present my gifts, of peanut butter and chocolate. I had asked Horacio what I could bring and he had mentioned these items. I see now, they were both with R in mind. She seems happy with them.

As we walked up to the cashier, H says, “I invited you,” indicating he wants to pay. I don’t argue.

But at the register he pulls out a fifty dollar bill—American. The cashier says something I don’t catch—they can’t change such big bill perhaps, or maybe they don’t take dollars, although a large number of businesses do. H turns to me “Do you have colones?

“How bout I put it on my credit card?”

“Yes, that would be best,”

The bill comes to about $30 dollars. With the hotel, taxi, breakfast and woman on the bus, I’ve spent almost $100 in one day, and we haven’t been to dinner yet. At this rate, a ten-day trip is going to make our next credit card statement one that will make me cringe, especially since this is also our first month without Paul’s paycheck.

Later, in my room, I’m rather relieved when H calls to say it would be better to stay in this evening. And although I’m not thrilled about the cost, I enjoy having my own room. I’ve started my period and, I’m still working on my presentation, so I’m grateful for the privacy, and the freedom the room allows. My friend T calls me on skype, and I carry my laptop out to the balcony to show him all the people downtown on a Saturday night. We have a nice chat, and despite the noise from the street below, I don’t have any problem falling asleep.

March 4, 2011–Guanacaste

MARCH 4, 2011

Guanacaste

There are two international airports in Costa Rica. One is just outside the capital city of San Jose, and the other is in the province of Guanacaste, located in the northwest, along the Pacific coast. The terrain in Guanacaste is dryer than other parts of Costa Rica—it’s not tropical. In fact, areas of it remind one of the southwest United States, with brownish plains and tall grasses.

The airport is adjacent to the city of Liberia, an hour from the beach towns that I would love to visit, but with my travel plans, do not have time to appreciate, since I arrive late, and will be taking a bus in the morning. After my bank card fiasco, I spend my first night at Hotel Santa Ana, five minutes from the airport, and five from the Pulmitan bus station in Costa Rica. My friend, Horacio, has made the reservation, but left the bill to me. I’ve agreed to come and do these workshops on a volunteer basis, and to cover my own travel, but with the explicit understanding that once I arrive in the country, the festival can take care of all my expenses in terms of meals and places to sleep, and transport to the beach on the Caribbean Coast for a meeting the participants will have after the festival is over. Lately however, though he has not contradicted this statement directly, he seems to be talking about discounted rates for things, as though I will be picking up the tab. I’ve prepared for this to happen some, but I’m hoping it won’t be too much. I’m assuming that when I get to San Jose tomorrow, he will have arranged some kind of home stay, although any details about arrangements have been hard-won, and even then, limited. (For instance, I know “someone” will meet me at the San Jose bus station tomorrow afternoon, but I don’t know who, as Horacio is apparently on the Caribbean coast with some of the other participants, doing so pre-festival activities. I’m hoping the person will have a sign.)

So I pay the bill with my credit card, proprietress hands me a key, and a remote for the air conditioner. I settle in to my room. It has a desk, which is nice, and wi-fi, which I love. I take a small shower, then step outside my room for a few minutes to enjoy the post-heat-of-the-day balmy breezes, before retiring to my room to make a stab at the long job application. I make it to the prompt where they asked me to recount, in backwards order, every job I’ve ever held, and give the names and phone numbers of my supervisors. As a freelancer and frequent part-timer, my “supervisors” could run to the dozens, more, if you counted my time in Chicago. Many of the companies where I worked are defunct, or my supervisors left long ago. And even if my supervisors were still at those places, most large companies only allow prospective employers to speak to human resources (or the payroll company) who are only allowed to verify dates of employment and not make other comments. So overall, this listing an exercise of will—a will that I don’t quite have in me this night…

Instead I turn to my notes for my upcoming workshops. I have my two DVDs full of clips safely tucked into the backpack I plan to carry tomorrow–sometimes luggage migrates from under the bus, so these most important items will stay with me. I think I have my concepts laid out for the three-hour version of the class on Monday, but am nervous about the five-hour class I’m supposed to do the following day (I’m nervous about it all, of course, but have more nervousness about the longer class). I was initially thinking of doing writing exercises, but I’ve realized that while I can lecture with the aid of a translator, going over exercises written in another language is not the best idea! So I’m considering adding some more concepts, and showing longer clips of film for the second class. Or, in truth, plans can be slippery down here, so possibly I can just announce that the workshop will be shorter, and no one will bat an eye.

Costa Rica–Present Day

I’ve been working on putting to paper a blow-by-blow daily account of my trip for personal use…but as I near 7000 words, I wonder if it will just be boring for readers of this blog. Still deciding.

In the meantime, just just the facts, Ma’am.
My first attempt at teaching screenplay structural elements went fine from my end–so that was a relief. I was really prepared, and even had an imperfect translated version to work from in case there was not a translator. My fancy custom-made DVDs looked good, and I had come up with pretty good transitions for my subject matter.
From the end that was not mine, the workshop–and the entire series of workshops that might was part of–was disastrous. A mountain of misinformation and non-information meant that some workshops never happened, and those that did were ill-attended (as was mine)…
So, incredibly long story short–it was pretty fucked up, but I didn’t fuck it up. I spent more time, money and mental resources than I had budgeted, and the results were sub-par, but I also bonded with some talented people from all over the world who were in the same boat. So in the “everything happens for a reason” line of thinking, it remains to be seen what might come of those relationships in the long run.

Costa Rica Flashback Post #2

October 11, Monday 1999
Santa Elena, Costa Rica

Santa Elena is a small town about five kilometers from Monte Verde Cloud Forest and Reserve. Our bus departed yesterday at 6:30 AM. We arrived five hours later and settled ourselves at Pension Santa Elena. For five bucks per person per night we have a room for three (myself, Moira, Stephanie) with a shared bathroom (heated water!--well, kind of). The place has kind of a nice college dorm feel about it, with a large communal kitchen for cooking, attached to a dining/lobby area with tables for eating, writing, playing cards. This room opens out onto a porch with a couple of hammocks and lounge chairs where you can sit back and enjoy the Pink Floyd emanating from within.
Today we visited a private reserve that plays host to a series of suspension bridges and cable lines known as SKY TREK. We hiked through the forest wearing climbing harnesses and carrying small metal pulleys. At intervals on the tour we would climb towers or steep paths to the cable lines, hook on with our hand pulleys, and zip through the treetops to the other side. The longest cables were about 300 meters long, and 60 meters high, and we traveled at between 25 and 30 kilometers per hour. Propelled by gravity, a heavier person travels faster and further, while a lighter person (or one not so adept and shifting one's body weight) might find oneself stalled before the end, and proceeding hand over hand for the last few feet of the trip (not that that happened to anyone we know ha ha!).
After this adventure Moira and Stephanie made for base camp, but I continued up the mountain with an English couple we had met during our tour. Terry and Alice are father and daughter--she seems about my age--and were good company. They are traveling together through Central America for six months, and each is writing their own account of the trip and their relationship. At the end they hope to compile a book. It was raining even before we began our hike up to Santa Elena reserve. The rains seemed to end as we arrived and began our trail, but this was deceptive as half an hour later we experienced monsoon-like conditions. It was fun, but I fear my boots will be drying for days to come!
In the evenings we entertain ourselves playing cards with a sweet tempered boy named Casey-- the type who would have captured my heart as he came running out of the Fiji house for a game of Ultimate back at Hanover College. In the off-season he is Pension Santa Elena's oldest (duration, not age)occupant. After a little over a week he is as completely comfortable as a stray cat that wanders into your life and simply chooses to stay. He has the face of an angel, framed by shapely sideburns, a stud through his lower lip, (there is another through his tongue)and a shell necklace. He tells us in a monotone Savannah,GA drawl about his favorite DJs and mixers who spin drum-bass, jungle and house. Unlike the cat, Casey would like to leave--his friends have already left for Montezuma, but he is a victim of the country's rather slow money wiring system, and so each day since Friday he's been "waitin' on tha bank." Because he has to conserve his money for the essentials (food, cigarettes and some kind of local moonshine) he has not visited any of the wildlife attractions--he's always right there when we come home. We depart tomorrow before the bank opens and so I won't know how the story ends. I think I will always have this sense of him being here, like an episode of "The Twilite Zone" perpetually sitting on the porch bumming smokes, every day waiting on the bank that never comes.