IMPORTANT NOTES FROM JUSTIN:
Yesterday was definitely one of the better days of my life.
I started things with a traditional lunch at a soda in La Fortuna. I sighed as the casually dressed host brought me a plate of beans, rice, a single leg of chicken, two small pieces of potato, and a pile of a explosively bright fuscia something.
I was apprehensive to try the strangely–colored food. Meals in rustic countries tends to dress themselves in browns and greens and more earthy, natural shades of edible. But, I like adventure and danger, so I scooped a huge forkful into my daring mouth. The fuscia food item turned out to be the Tico equivalent of potato–egg salad from America's Midwest. It got its other–worldly color from the beets that had been mashed into the chopped hard–boiled eggs and chunks of potato.
I let the flavors mingle in my mouth. Egg, potato, beet, and some gooey mixer—probably mayonnaise. The thought of it made me cringe. Yet, this was the best tasting thing on my plate. So, I ate it all—as quickly as I could. I wanted this experience to end.
The day got better, and fast—and it wasn't long before I completely forgot about my meal. On the way back to the hotel I saw a sign for a horseback trip to the nearby waterfall. Fifteen US dollars seemed like a great deal for a four hour equestrian adventure, so I signed us up. And old, leather–skinned man with a kind face and a white hat asked us in Spanish if we had any experience with horseback riding. I told him that yes, we all knew how to ride.
And so we rode. The waterfall was a little over an hour away by horseback, so made ourselves comfortable on the stiff, leather saddles.
The horses walked leisurely—the succulent, green landscape crept by to our left and our right. The waterfall lay a few kilometers up on the side of the towering Volcan Arenal. The horses climbed the mild slope without a complaint. We passed the time with conversations about our lives and stories of recent breakups. And, in between our words the clip–clop of horseshoes on the battered, weary pavement punctuated the air where silence would have been.
There was on almost overwhelming sense of leisure to our peaceful pace, and beauty gushed in shades of green all around us.
The waterfall itself wasn't much different from any other waterfall—it was big and loud and the force of the pounding water would've killed you if you were so foolish as it to swim under it. (For those without common sense, a hand–painted sign instructed visitors that swimming under the waterfall was dangerous and would kill you.)
We were in a canyon, and cloud forest jungle thrived around us and climbed the stone walls up to the sky. It was nearly four in the afternoon, and what sun there might have been—had it not been cloudy—had long since retreated, leaving the canyon chilly.
We climbed on the wet rocks and sat in pools below the falls. Scott found a natural seat in the rocks, and we all took turns sitting in it and feeling the force of the water almost suck our limbs off and carry them downstream. The feeling was exhilarating and almost too cold for comfort, but not quite.
Trouty–looking fish gathered together for school in the shallow water. A topless French woman wearing only her underwear waded with them. Occasionally she would crouch down, plunge her face into the stream, and look through her plastic swimming goggles at the fish. I thought it was funny that she arrived at this out–of–the–way place with something as specific as swimming goggles, yet she seemed to have forgotten even half of a bathing suit. Not that I minded. I tend to think people should wear less clothing in general—especially cute foreigners frolicking in the water. What this world needs is more exposed flesh—not less. (And, I have to admit there was something charming about the woman's wet–underwear–and–swimming–goggles ensemble.)
We played in the water for an hour before it was time to return to the old man and his caballos. Plus, daylight was fading fast.
We rode back in contemplative, comfortable quiet. Our minds processed the beauty and perfection of the past few hours—clearly the tip of life's iceberg. The sounds of hooves and an infrequent passing car here and there faded in and out of my consciousness. I noticed only the calm—crudely cultivated fields sat silently around us, matted dogs slept in the middle of the street, entropy slowly dismantled empty cabanas and old barns. Behind us the sun was setting. Not that we could see it, as it was hidden behind the giant volcano, which itself was hidden behind a mire of clouds that didn't open for a single second since our arrival. (We had to just believe that there was an active, spewing, fiery volcano towering over the village of Fortuna, ready to destroy life for hundreds of miles with billions of tons of kitten–searing magma. Maybe there was a volcano up there. Maybe not. All I saw was clouds.)
Back in town we dined on comfort food—you can't go wrong with Mexican tacos and quesadillas. I swished my margarita in my mouth and wondered how Mexican food could be so good but Costa Rican food could be so, well, so not good.
We walked back across the street to our hotel where we were introduced to the proprietor of Hotel Luigi, none other than Luigi. He asked what we'd be doing for the evening and recommended that we drive 20 minutes to the rural village of Platanal. From what he described there would be horses and bulls and some sort of show (like a rodeo?) as well as booths, traditional dance and art, and examples of new tractors and cars. This could only mean one thing: We were going to go to a fair in Costa Rica!
After getting lost numerous times on the dark, unmarked country roads we came to what was clearly the Tico equivalent of a fair. It had all the makings of a fair—booths displaying the newest trucks and farm equipment. There was a stadium where the rodeos would have been if it wasn't ten in the evening. Sizzling sounds and spicy scents came from kiosks boasting classic carnival fare—churros, candied apples, skewered meat, and horrible Chinese 'food'. (We were all very intrigued by the chop suey kiosk—but none of us were daring enough to try it.)
And what carnival would be complete without the standard selection of rides? Most of them had been shut down for the evening, but we managed to have a go at the bumper cars before they closed it. Now, I've been on bumper cars at the fair many times. But, never had I experienced the life–threatening peril of the Costa Rican version of the ride. What made it so dangerous? The cars were much, much faster than I was used to. Collisions were as jarring as a real car accident, and the force from the crashes was enough to knock the plastic cars a few inches up into the air.
I soon found that it was best to let my body go limp when the other cars would hit me. It hurt much more if I kept my posture rigid. Even so, my spine cried uncle and I counted the seconds until they would ring the bell and the danger would be over.
After that experience I was glad that the other rides weren't open. I wouldn't have to be tempted to subject myself to what had to be the most dangerous thing I could think of—Central American carnival rides. I imagined potential slogans for the rides.
Carnival Costa Rica—Where safety comes third.
Carnival Costa Rica—Fuck safety. We're drunk.
Carnival Costa Rica—Completely disregarding the sanctity of human life since 1970.
We spent some time dancing in a temporary two–story disco tucked into the back corner of the fairgrounds. Considering it was built from scaffolding, this full–sized open air nightclub seemed so sturdy that we never even considered that it would be torn down in a day. Tomorrow there we would be no sign that it was ever there—except for the ringing in the ears of the people who'd spent the night pulsing their hips to the pounding house/latin beats.
It was all good fun, but the best part of my day was landing at what had to be one of the nicest nightclubs I've ever been to. Bussola 21 was a new venue—only open a week. And it shone like new, too. Situated in a tiny rural village 25 meters from the main road, the sculpted building stood out like a new Ferrari in a lot of beaten Volkswagen vans.
The architecture defied everything that Costa Rica seemed to stand for. There were no parallel walls to be seen. The colors were bright. Every detail seemed as if months of care went into it—from the sweeping teardrop–shaped bar tops to the curving metal scaffolding catwalks to the columns of eerie blue light which seemed to have no purpose except to be totally awesome.
But, what really topped it off was that the DJ booth was an Iran–Contra era helicopter which was suspended about 15 feet off the ground. It's tail bisected the tall wall above the entrance. You could see the tail sticking out above you as you walked in. The cockpit hung above the dance floor.
Scott and Cynthia sat on one of the pinstriped, blood colored sofas as I walked across a catwalk through three meters of open rain forest to the floating round building where the restrooms hid. There were no doors on the men and women's restrooms. Instead, carefully placed curved walls provided privacy from people in the club. The walls of the room were only chest high. You could see out into the lush vegetation as you stood at a urinal. You could even reach out and grab whatever was out there, if you so desired.
When I came back to the red couch, my friends had doubled—the two had started to talk with two Ticos. The Costa Rican brother/sister pair asked me what I thought of the place. I replied with only one word—helicopter. I mean, if there is something cooler than a helicopter suspended through a vertical wall over a dance floor in a building, then someone please tell me. And, the fact that it was a DJ booth and that I was in Central America and not Miami or London made it even more exciting.
"Do you want to go in it?" asked the girl who called herself Kin. My smile grew wild like a child's. YES. She asked the waiter for me. He told her he would ask the owner and let us know. And, after a short wait the owner greeted us and brought us across a precarious catwalk to the chopper.
I was terrified as I put foot in front of foot across the narrow metal walkway—no more than 12 inches wide. There were no handrails. The only thing to catch me if I were to slip would've been the teardrop shaped bar or the cement dance floor—neither looked very soft. But, I made it. And, scared for dear life, I climbed into the tiny cockpit and sat next to the DJ.
The old bird had been transformed. The front glass window was replaced with metal screen. Where the stick used to be sat a computer display running DJ software. The back wall of controls had been gutted and replaced by headphone amps, equalizers, compressors, amplifiers, and patch bays.
I was just stunned at how is easy it was. I was sitting in the helicopter and all I had to do was ask nicely. Maybe I'm wrong, but I imagine that in my country nobody would ever let you just come and sit in their cool helicopter DJ booth. In fact, I ask nicely to do things all the time and am met with a cold no. Maybe we have something to learn from the laid–back Costa Ricans?
After my turn in the chopper, I spent a few minutes and just sat on the catwalk with Cynthia. We dangled our legs over the people below. They pointed and talked amongst themselves—probably wondering why we were up there. It was a good thing to wonder. Why were we up there? I guess the only answer is: why not?
After this the owner sat with us and entertained us with his funny jokes, wordplay, and a font of information about what it takes to own a club. Drink after drink kept being dropped off at our table. So, we were properly relaxed when the 6.2 earthquake hit. But, nobody seemed to mind. The owner just smiled and took a sip of his drink. The shaking escalated and he offered, smugly, "The whole place is anti–seismic." The whole place lit up with cheers and clapping after the earthquake ended. Disaster? Terrifying act of nature? Bah! This was fun.
It was hard for the night to end, but we had to stop somewhere. Kin and her brother drove with us to our hotel for one last drink and to get a few copies of my CD. Then, we bid them adios and collapsed into our beds, rewarding our bodies and minds with some hours of rest before another day in the big, crazy, shaky world.
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