Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Waiting for the Rain

Sometimes in life, a person makes bad decisions. Sometimes in life a person makes good decisions. And most times in life you have no idea which type of decision you are making as you are making it.

This morning, I awoke early to an already-slightly-uncomfortably-warm day. I put on my new favorite shirt and sat for a minute contemplating whether to wear my flip-flops or my Chucks. Flip-flops would keep my feet from getting too hot in this weather, but on the other hand, Chucks are just all-around cooler and closed-toed shoes seem to be the norm around here. My Chucks and I headed out to my favorite breakfast (gallo pinto = rice and beans mixed together) which was made (defying the seemingly-impossible) even more amazing with the addition of avocado.
Leave early for class so as not to rush and sweat, thus ruining the happiness of my favorite shirt. And at the last minute I grab my iPod, thinking, "this is not a good idea." I have no idea why I grabbed my iPod. I don't travel with it anymore because I have a crippling fear of it getting stolen. But with said fear screaming in my head, I left, stringing the headphones underneath the back of my shirt and hiding the earphones in my hair, and my Chucks, Jackie Greene and I all trooped towards campus.

It wasn't until half-way through my second class of the day that the sky opened up and unleashed every ounce of humidity that it ever had or ever will hold with a vengeance.
I was saved from pretending to not be surprised so as not to stick out by the other students who seemed as confused as I was. And the great big peal of thunder. That was pretty obvious and pretty distracting.
For the rest of the class I struggled between a desperate attempt to retain and copy down information, a futile effort to stop my hands from shaking after I forced myself to actually speak up, and occasional vain prayer for the rain to stop.

Which it didn't.

Even though I had to get my picture taken for my ID card right after class. And it was weird because I was absolutely convinced that the sky would clear just as class was letting out. Some times I get the feeling that my life works out like it would in a movie, like the universe and I communicate like old college buddies and it is completely legitimate for me to assume that the rain will magically let up just as I'm stepping outside, "luckily."

But it didn't.

I reached the front of the building to find the usual handful of people milling around and a sheer wall of light grey rain. So I did what I usually do. I changed the song on the soundtrack to my life, and prepared myself for a mad dash between buildings, to shelter-hop half way across campus to the Registry office. Dodging puddles and run-off I made it along the slightly covered walkway from the main entrance to the Social Sciences building to the side entrance of the same building where I stopped short. There were three different covered areas within my sight and all of them were filled with people just... standing. Waiting for the rain to let up.
It was pura vida at it's purest. No one looked angry or stressed or even inconvenienced. They just watched the rain and waited for the hole in which they could continue on to their respective destinations. Some leaned against nearby objects. A few with umbrellas shuttled people between shelters. But mostly people shuffled their feet bemusedly. Occasionally someone would realize that they really should get to class, or would tire of waiting and dart out into the rain. It looked cool, exciting, adventurous. So I secured my bag and made my own dash to the next length of hallway, where I continued, grinning and shaking raindrops out of my hair until the next doorway where I stopped again.
I leaned up against the door jamb and reveled for a while in my ability to be Pura Vida. I could wait here, just like everyone else, as long as it took. Especially because my next dash would be a long one. So it seemed okay to wait.

There's something to be said about acculturation. It's always such an achievement to feel like you've integrated yourself into a culture to the point where you no longer stick out. Where you know the slang, know the habits, know the mannerisms and can pretend like you belong. It's nice when you can feel like maybe, just maybe, people don't automatically write you off as a foreigner. And that's how I felt leaning against that glass door. Like part of the club.

Until I didn't want to anymore.

As I sat and watched the few, the proud and the crazy doing the hundred yard sprint to their various destinations, I remembered that I LIKE sticking out. I like it when I don't blend in, when people notice me. Especially if it's for something that I personally consider cool. And at that moment, just like it would have in the movies, I heard Jackie Greene reminded me, as the song faded out, that "Better stand tall if you’re gonna stand at all/ And if you’re gonna fall, well you might as well fall." So I did. Well, first I started the song over again, and waited for him to sing it again, then I took off sprinting. By the time I reached the concrete wall of the library on other side of the parking lot, where I paused for a moment in the relative shelter offered by a vertical wall to grin up at the sky before I was off again.

And then in that too, I found an odd camaraderie through smiles and glances shared with others who, like me, lacked umbrellas and sense.

When I finally made it to the office of the registry, I was soaked and my make up was running but I couldn't stop grinning (check my ID picture). Rain always gives me an uncontrollable feeling of elation. My Chucks were sopping wet, but I've never been happier to have my iPod. Best. Decision. Ever.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rock around the Clock

It figures, of course, that the one time I go abroad and pack light is the one time when I actually would have used all of the other crap that I usually over-pack. Like that polka-dot dress that I brought to Ireland and never wore? Or the denim vest that I only ever wear to punk concerts and 80s nights? Yea, both of those were sorely missed last night.

I’ve found that my best friends tend to be the ones that get ridiculously excited about the same silly things I do, or at least those who can appreciate my excitement, even if they don’t share it. So you can imagine how I felt when we found out that one of our Tico friend’s cousin’s Rockabilly band was playing on Friday night and my friend Dominique goes “I want big teased hair, all up like this.” And I said, (trying desperately to keep the hopeful tone out of my voice) “wait, are we dressing up?” And she looked at me as if I were crazy and said “Of course. Oh! And if you need something to wear, I have that hot pink, high-waisted skirt that I wore the other night and a bunch of other stuff to choose from.”

Flash forward to Friday night. I’m sitting on the edge of my bed and staring forlornly at my closet on the edge of despair. WHERE ARE ALL OF MY CLOTHES??? There’s a grand total of 7 hangers in my closet. The clothes that hang from them are looking limp and sad and had been mentally discarded long ago. All of my jeans are too baggy or “relaxed” to be considered adequate. I pull out my stack of shirts. T-shirt, t-shirt, hippie shirt, t-shirt, too contemporary, too girly, too bright, hippie shirt, too fancy, too flowy, hippie shirt, print, too bright… Eventually I was left with one black wife-beater with “Jack Daniels” stamped across the front which is actually rather perfect and a denim skirt that was too big to even pretend to be a pencil skirt. Pitiful. At least borrowing shoes would be no problem, which is the only thing that kept me from pining for my black heels which I also left at home. (Oh they would have been perfect – peep-toe sling backs) I throw all of my make up into a bag, gel, hairbrush, bobby pins, bandanas and trot out to the waiting taxi, thoroughly displeased with my makeshift outfit and my general lack of preparedness for situations like this. Again, pitiful.

You see, if there’s one thing I do, its costume. My Halloween costumes are always extravagant, varied, and plentiful. I have specific clothes for specific occasions – the red and white striped sweater for the Christmas season, white pants and navy shirts for summers on the Cape, rust colored scarves and sweaters for late autumn academia. Even day – to –day I dress myself according to a mood and a costume. Some days I’m feeling more artsy to I wear off-the shoulder shirts and put my hair up in a clip. Other days I’m feeling tomboyish, so it’s white t-shirts, relaxed jeans and my converse, sometimes pigtails if I’m feeling youthful too. On days in which I’ve got the wanderlust coursing through my veins again and I wear all my cloth and leather bracelets, interesting earrings and hippie shirts. I costume. It’s what I do.

So the idea of not having the ability to put together a satisfactory costume drove me to distraction. I set myself firmly to making it up to myself by making-up my friends perfectly – cat-eyes and red lipstick., victory curls and twists done up in bandanas, flowers and feathers and plastic jewels.
Sitting in the taxi, no one wanted to admit it, but we were all just a little nervous that maybe we went a little too far…
Suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of the California District, in leopard print and high-waisted skirts, just a smidge too vintage to go unnoticed in the sea of punk muttering distractedly that for all they know, we could dress like this every day. Maybe we were just THAT type of person, you know? The Amy Winehouse meets Katy Perry look. Maybe we always look like this, for all they know…

You see, today’s Rockabilly is a revival of 1950’s rock and roll (or of the original rockabilly style) in a modern punk context. It’s the roots movement of punk rock, if you will. The genres, all though distinct, definitely mingle. It’s when punk kids wear bowling shirts and wifebeaters, pompadours instead of Mohawks, and completely un-distressed leather jackets. In the back of my mind I questioned the commitment to rockabilly that we may find in Costa Rica, so I tried my best to make sure the punk part of it was emphasized. Black tank, denim. Black, red and white. Plaid. Converse with floral. Exaggerated cat-eyes. It’s usually fairly easy to blend Rockabilly with Punk and go unnoticed. But the absolute vintage glory of our hair-dos kept us from any sort of blending in. (That and the fact that we were 5 gringas who were not only obvious, but obviously uncertain about where we were).

But stepping inside that bar, when we finally found it, was like stepping back in time, and ceremoniously stepping up on a dais. The place was packed and the crowd was mostly punk, but it was obvious that here, Rockabilly reigned supreme. Greaseres leaned against the walls. The tables were filled with punk kids with a hints of 40’s and 50’s – up-dos, cat-eye glasses, and even some bowling shirts and argyle. We still stuck out, but this time in a rather awe-some way.

And then commenced the night of skanking and twisting. The bands were crazy. The music was fast and boppin’ and at one point the bass player jumped up onto his bass and played crouched over like some sort of cat, ready to spring. By the end of the night, when the surf-rock band had set up their little antenna contraption that makes those alien-like sounds that are so, SO essential to that classic surf-rock sound, the floor was packed and bouncing. I spent most of my time fighting off cramps from twisting too much – fully committed to my persona for the night, I wanted it to look like I always spent the night doing the twist.

At one point Dominique and I pulled away to the bar to grab a drink and catch our breaths, and chatted with our friend, Alvaro, and his cousin, the drummer for the first band. He wore a broad-shouldered black suit with a yellow tie, a fedora and wingtips and had three tattoos of Frank Sinatra on one arm, one of Johnny Cash on the other and the Beatles across his chest (supposedly). Alvaro leaned over the music and shouted “He says you ladies look like pin-up girls!”

In writing it sounds sleazy, and as Dominique later pointed out, anything else would have been. But being compared to a pin-up girl by the drummer of the rockabilly band not only realized my intention and hard work, but absolutely made the night complete. It was the highest compliment we could have possibly been paid.

At 1am we retired to the nearest Taco Bell (yes, Taco Bell) and discussed plans for more Rockabilly adventures, both here and back in the States. And I reveled to once again be getting weird looks for being outlandish, rather than for being gringa.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Caribbean Part 2

We left for Cahuita at a decent hour the next day. I left my wallet at the bus stop, loosing money for the second time that trip. My losses totaled to 5,935 colones (about 11 dollars), an expired drivers license, a health insurance card, a few odd receipts, the house key to my home in the US, and the bottle opener that I keep attached to my key ring. It was the first time the whole weekend that I’d been glad that I’d forgotten my credit card.
Cahuita was much more what we’d been expecting from the Caribbean. 10 times sleepier. We ate our rice and beans, the napped on the beach during the occasional stretches of sun, and retired earlier. We spent a good portion of the night sitting on the porch of our room surrounded by the warm air and even warmer smell of fresh baked bread, sipping tea from mismatched mugs or dented tin cups, listening to the rain and counting the rare star that made its way through the clouds.
The next day, our final as we decided, we breakfasted on bananas and weaseled our way into the Afro-Caribbean Historical museum, which was ostensibly closed. Old things were arranged in a sensible chaos along wood walls which were painted a bright turquoise and the proprietor, Sankey gave us a brief history/explanation, laced with political digressions, while his cohort chatted with two of the girls with true Caribbean hospitality.
Eventually we thanked him, promising to return and hold him to his promise of live music and ventured back out into the rain to hike through the national park along the seashore. The walk started out well enough, sandy trail, glimpses of the sea and a canopy of lush, vibrant green. The flora was plentiful, but the fauna was scarce, as was expected. We’ve been in Costa Rica for six weeks now, but the closest we’ve ever come to the exciting wildlife are blobs of sloth or monkey in distant trees which we totally would have missed but for our keen-eyed guides.
But here the path is blocked by a river. Shoes off, we ford across, the very picture of intrepid explorers. I waded through with my shoes slung around my neck and my arms held high to protect my camera from non-existent rapids, which was probably a little more dramatic than the crossing deserved, but man, if you’ve gotta ford a river, you might as well ford the hell out of it.
We continued our trek, the forest becoming darker and more tangled with every step. I started humming. Whoop de do. I wanna be like yooOOoo. I wanna WALK like you TALK like you… shoopbedoop! The path becomes muddier. Most of us are still barefoot from the crossing. With each step I take through the thick brown water, I have to force myself to not think about whatever is in the mud that I can’t see. Each time I raise my foot, I expect to see it covered in leeches and each time I put it down, I do it gingerly, expecting to impale myself on some jungle spike. The path has turned away from the water, and all around us is nothing but thick, vine-y jungle. Eventually it becomes so swamped that they have built bridges. By now, half of our party has turned back, leaving just four. I’m the slowest, picking my way not only around the mud as best I can, but also along the bridges, whose boards have bent up at the edges, exposing their corners to unsuspecting feet. After three or four of these bridges, we stop. In the quiet the only thing we can hear is the faint buzzing of any number of insect. Mostly mosquitoes, as we find out seconds later. Apparently even the worst of the REI’s DEET laced bug juice can’t stave off these suckers. We turn back, fleeing to the sanctuary of the beach. And just before we reach the fording river, we see a group of tourists perched on the cement rim of a small, murky pool. Vaguely I recall passing it before and one of us wrote it off as a “pre-Columbian” ruin(ish). Apparently, we were wrong. As they drew their feet out of its bottomless depths, the hikers explained to us that it was a hot spring. And was it ever! I was more than happy to apologize to my feet by immersing them in the warm water that felt and smelled of mineral.
Eventually we reluctantly pulled our feet out and continued on.
“Of course I’d invite Jesus to my dinner party. Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Einstein…”
“It’s so hard. I feel like I’d like alone time with each of the people I want to invite.”
“That’s the thing about the dinner party; you have to think of all aspects of it. How your guests will get along, the direction of the conversation, the food…. You’re a host, it’s a party. These are all considerations.”
“So do you have your five yet, Maggie?”
“Yep. Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Zelda, Oscar Wilde and one of them can bring a friend. I think it would be fantastic night, because they were all really intelligent and they all really liked booze-fueled discussions of literature, music, history, philosophy and the like. Plus, they were all part of the celebrity intelligentsia set, and would probably know other famous people eating at the tables around us and would introduce me. And then we’d all end the night dancing with the waiters and inviting the taxi-cab driver to the after-party. I’m pretty excited about it.”
The close of the day found us slumped against our backpacks and the walls of the bus station, waiting for the 4:30 to take us back to San Jose. We didn’t say much, mostly reviewed pictures or just sat and stared at the puddles that perfectly mirrored our surroundings. Sinking into the bus seats for the 5 hour drive back, I felt like I’d been standing for days. And the gentle rocking of the bus through the dark and the rain seemed a perfect ending to a long and eventful trip.
Oh but it wasn’t over. I never expected the taxi ride back to be anything but more of the same, but I should have known that there would be no sleepy drive ahead of me when the taxi driver suggested 6,000 colones was a reasonable price and Emily pulled me off in a huff. We only had 5.700 on us, and that seemed an outrageous amount for a taxi ride which had never cost us more than 4,000 colones. So when we finally chose a taxi, we were surprised when the meter started increasing rapidly. All our calm was erased as we anxiously watched it pass 2,500 and then 3,000.
“What if we don’t have enough?” I whispered.
“I don’t know man…”
4,000… we’re close to home, but at the rate the fare was going, we may not make it.
“Aquí?” The driver glances into the rearview mirror.
“Sí, sigue 500 metros… y luego… no! Shoot, I’ll get off at the corner. Here! Aquí! Stop!”
“I tumble out of the cab, half a block from my house and frantically trying to relate to the driver that he didn’t have to get out to get my backpack from the trunk. I could get it myself if it would save precious minutes that the meter was running. Hell, I’d do it running behind the taxi if he’d let me…
Finally I watched the taxi continue the 6 blocks up to Emily’s with unease. I’d left the meter at something like 4,900 colones. I kept my fingers crossed.
I found out the next day that Emily, too, had stopped the man at the entrance to her neighborhood. As soon as the meter reached 5,600 she’d yelled at him to stop, in English, the frenzy of the situation having rendered her Spanish-less, and by the time she’d managed to remember how to stop him in Spanish, it’d reached 5,700.
An appropriately exciting ending to an unexpectedly exciting vacation.

Caribbean Part 1

The notoriously colorful Caribbean was so beautiful that I had to shoot it in black and white. The weather report had been ominous, but we’d ignored that, deciding with the impetuousness of youth to not waste the glorious free week in front of us.
But in spite of grey weather, we trouped intrepidly through. It helped that the Caribbean is rife with adventure, at every turn.
I mean, the moment, the very moment we stepped into the hostel we were recruited for party preparations, even before we’d checked in. Coincidentally, we’d walked in on the day of the biggest party of the year in sleepy little Puerto Viejo. The rager was in honor of the owner of the backpacker’s paradise, Rockin’ J’s, a beachside tangle of mosaics, staircases, tent platforms, hammocks, and gazebos. It was heaven for every backpacker who had once been a kid who dreamed of a Peter Pan-inspired tree house. And it was filled with quintessential backpackers. You know the type, with their clothes collected from around the world, sun-bleached hair, fresh and healthy from so much sun and the great outdoors and a penchant for walking around barefoot. I like to pretend I fit right in, especially since I was accompanied by my very own backpack, but really I’d brought a few too many shirts to truly support the cause.
The drizzly day washed into night over a few games of pool, a game at which I do not suck anymore. The band came out and lit up the darkened hostel with all manner of music and songs that made a San Francisco girl proud (Though, I do believe at one point I shrieked “they’re playing The Dead! I LOVE this song” and I’m pretty sure that the shrill pitch of that shriek thoroughly ruined my carefully crafted flirtation with the boy in the white shirt, a flirtation that consisted wholly of the fact that I told a friend that I thought he was cute, occasional glances in his direction, and nothing else. It’s an art form, and mine resembles a three-year-old’s finger painting.) The dancing was as wild and to cool down, all one needed to do was step out from under the roof and be wrapped in the midnight mist. And at the end of the night, everyone’s respective hammock or tent was close at hand and welcomed its patron’s collapse with open arms.
The next day dawned as groggy as we all were. I took a moody walk down the beach to feed my tortured artistic soul with desolate beach scenes of the supposedly vibrant Caribbean coastline. I like to think that I added something, the lone figure, dressed in blue, picking her way along the reef to the cliffs where the fury of the sea beat against its captor, the shore.
The only downside to our amazing hostel was its pitiful excuse for a kitchen, so lunch was a can of garbanzo beans acquired on our soggy journey down town. We rented bikes, and, just around the time that half of the group decided to go back, the rest of us ventured out in the significantly heavier rain to see if we could reach Manzanillo, a neighboring beach which was rumored to be beautiful. Our epic journey began with the four of us pushing our bikes through ankle-deep mud for two blocks. As we were doing so a van inched by which ended up holding two of our new friends from the night before, Eduardo who has a tattoo of a toadstool and Oscar who is the driver for the tour company the two of them started. They were being thwarted in their attempts at returning to San Jose, and so we stopped with them to go swimming at this little beach just off the road, I mean, after all, we were already soaked. We waded in just to our waists but the currents, angered by the stormy weather, pulled and pushed at our legs. Eventually we continued on, undeterred by the afternoon hour and the daunting distance to Manzanillo. Apparently, I was the only one struggling with the most uncomfortable seat in the world, or at least the only one vocal about it…
Suddenly the forests stretching up around us were filled with deep, threatening grunts. Terrified that we were about to be attacked and by giant Gorillas, I caught up with my friends. In an attempt to pacify my fears, one of the girls tells me “they’re just howler monkeys.” Right. That makes me feel better. Now we’re going to be attacked by howler monkeys that are going to drop down 50 feet from their trees into a ninja circle around us, 200 strong, armed with rocks and feces scowling at us. Scowling howling monkeys. How did this not scare everyone else?
We never made it to Manzanillo. Not because of the monkeys though. By the time we reached the half way point, we were too nervous about night fall to continue. So we turned back and repeated the whole journey, minus the swimming, but with the addition of Disney song sing-a-longs.
The night’s goings on were highly unremarkable, save a jubilant bike ride to the club “downtown” and, as follows, the 2am bike ride back which consisted of the 10 of us weaving through the streets solely to avoid mud-filled pot holes.

Not written at 3am

It’s 3:30am and my hands are gripping the steering wheel of a white Bronco-type jeep and I’m dodging the potholes along the streets of San Pablo, Costa Rica. How did I get here? That’s exactly what I’ve been asking myself.
We’re briefly lost, but it’s nothing that flipping a quick “u”ie, which sounds far easier than it is, can’t fix. The Spanish version of ABBA’s “Chiquitita” blares harshly from the radio and Emily and I are harmonizing.

“Hey Pedro, so… do la policia usually pull people over a lot at this time of night?”

“No, es casi 4 en la manana, they stop working at around 2am, I think?”

I’ve never felt anything like the simultaneous sensation of relief and disconcertion. Cool, driving in San Jose at night, a place where we regard stop-lights as stop-signs so we don’t idle dangerously long in the middle of a deserted street, when the cops stopped working two hours ago.
I glance over at Pedro, who is the friend of the host-brother of one of my friends and whom I’ve met once before, whose name might actually be Filip, and who is looking much more awake than he was a half hour ago when he gave me his keys as we were all walking out of the McDonalds. It might be because the food and soda was re-energizing, or it might be because some crazy gringa who he’s only met once is now driving his piece of crap car, of which he is apparently very protective. I’m still not sure if he let me drive his car because he was dangerously tired or because in earlier polite conversation I’d mentioned how much I love and miss driving my car.
3:48 am and I know I plan to get up at 7:30am. 3 hours of sleep? Eh. Done it before. How do I get myself into the situations??? Three weeks ago we went out dancing at Castro’s the night before we had to meet our study abroad group at 6am. That night will live on in infamy partly because we haven’t had the nerve to return to Castro’s since then and partly because I was awoken by the sound of my 5:30am taxi honking its horn and only then did I realize I hadn’t packed. Running out in my pjs to tell Emily and the taxi to give me five minutes, literally throwing clothes and such into my bag, forgetting my camera and brushing my teeth outside the bus. And the best part is I wasn’t even the worst of it. I mean, at least I made it to the bus…
But in all honesty, I know how I got myself into this particular situation. It ended up being a mixture of my being too cheap to buy drinks at the dance club, my inability to actually dance salsa which meant that I did very little athletic dancing and was as relatively fresh as I could have been by the end of the night, and my pig-headed competitive side. The night at La Rumba had been fantastic. It’s a larger club than Castros, and it’s in Escazu, the Beverly Hills of San Jose, or so I’m told. The trek up had been long enough to build excitement, and apparently the trip back wasn’t lacking in it either. It’s always nice when your Designated Driver looks like he hasn’t slept in days, and I literally thanked the lucky starts stretching over head as we caravanned to McDonalds after a typical night of dancing and drama-filled gossip that I played Sober Sally. On our way out of the classic post-midnight meal, after Pablo had handed me the keys, I’d gotten into an argument with one of the other Ticos about my driving ability, and of course, that was that.
In the movie version of my life, I’m sure this scene will unfold to either Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” or to Will Smith’s “Wild, Wild West,” but the latter is only included because it came on the radio at one point. In reality, all I’m thinking about is how sad I am that I can’t shower off this layer of sweat and caked make-up because I don’t want my host-family to wake-up.
I’d rather not set my alarm clock either, but that same pig-headedness won’t let me let a something as inconsequential as lack of sleep cause me to miss any possible experience in this amazing country

Photos backlog!

Cartago y Heredia
Monteverde y Arenal
Puerto Viejo y Cahuita
Gallo Pinto Festival