Sunday, September 2, 2007

Max: The Challenge I’ve Been Looking For

Every other adult in our mini Costa Rican villa has strong attachments to the country. Asan was born here and knows the area intimately, Khalida spent a year teaching here years ago and then married a local (Asan), Sharon spent a year teaching here in the 90’s and feels that the land helped shape her values and beliefs. And the three of them speak the language fluently. Relative to them, I’m just a dumb yokel stumbling through the mud.

And that’s been the root of one my frustrations here. I have no anchor or motivation to feel passionate about this place. It’s nice and scenic, sure, but so is Texas Hill Country. So is Santa Barbara. So is upstate New York. I’ve been lacking a real attachment to the area, a real reason grow intimate with it. Unlike the others in our household, I didn’t have any coming-of-age experiences that really fortified a bond with the locale. And since I can always lean on them for help in sticky situations, or with communicating with the locals, I didn’t think I’d ever forge one.

But then all that changed.

Okay, so it’s not a huge deal, but Jules and I had an adventure this week that provided me with something to overcome, something to confront, something to accomplish. On my own.

I drove down to our favorite beach in Montezuma, Playa Las Manchas. But as soon as we got there it started to rain. Hard. Rain-forest-type rain that just keeps coming down in buckets. So instead of going to the beach, Jules and I went to a nearby hotel (Amor de Mar) to have an exotic drink (mango and pineapple juice blended with milk in a frosty glass). We had the drink on the hotel’s patio and the rain kept coming and coming, no break in the sky. When we were done, we walked 15 feet in the rain, back to the car, and were completely soaked all the way through. I told Jules we’d go home and take a warm shower, then he’d take a nap, and he seemed unusually amenable. But when I turned the key in the ignition the engine wouldn’t start. The battery had died.

I was flummoxed. Not only didn’t I have a cell phone with me, I also didn’t have any idea what the phone number was of Asan and Khalida’s place. I’d written it down once at the beginning of our trip but never had a need for it and left it somewhere. Life was so free-wheeling and lacking in deadlines, I couldn’t imagine I’d ever need a phone again.

The incident wouldn’t have been too big a deal if I’d been by myself. I would have simply walked the 2 miles back to the house (mostly up steep, muddy embankments) and then warmed up at home. But with a sleepy one-year-old with me, the equation changed significantly. Without turning this into a ridiculous epic, here’s basically what I did next:

--let a mild sense of panic course through my blood for a moment
--recovered my sanity
--went back to Amor de Mar and asked to borrow a phone book
--looked up Asan Jimenez but couldn’t find him in the pages (I later found out Asan and Khalida’s number is in the phone book, but listed under the previous property owner's name. Which doesn’t really count since I have no idea who that person is)
--looked up Asan’s mother’s business name but couldn’t find it either (I later found out that she’s listed under the name Gutierrez even though her last name is Jimenez, so that doesn’t really count either)
--asked various staff members for help in locating Asan’s or his mother’s number
--carried Jules across an overflowing bridge in the rain to another hotel where I’d been told they “might have jumper cables but no car but cars pass all the time and you can just flag one down and surely someone will help.” This hotel didn’t have the cables.
--went back to Amor de Mar to collect my thoughts, keep out of the rain and see if by some fluke someone there had a brilliant idea. They had no brilliant ideas but they did have a small garbage bag to give me. I poked out a hole in the bottom and put it over Jules’ drenched body to keep any additional water off him
--checked the sky and confirmed that there was no chance the rain would ease up anytime soon. In fact it seemed to be raining even harder
--trekked a mile with Jules on my back (in garbage bag garb) to the center of Montezuma through gallons of rushing water and tried to find Diana, a local woman who Sharon had befriended. I knew she had a jewelry shop on the second floor of some building and thought she’d at least have a phone number I could use. I found someone who worked near Diana’s shop who told me she wouldn’t be in till later in the day
--stood under an awning for 5 agonizing minutes trying to figure out my next steps
--remembered that Asan and Khalida had posted an ad for their bungelow somewhere in town a few days ago
--hiked around till I found the ad, memorized the phone number, and asked a local business if I could use their phone. With a soggy, frowning kid on my back I probably could have gotten a million favors
--called the number and got Khalida’s voice mail
--called it again and same thing, so I left a message that I was in town and might just start walking home
--took one last shot and asked a bartender at the local bar if he knew Asan. He did. And a way to reach him? Uh, no, amigo.
--finally decided that I had to walk back to the house through the sludge and rain

Of course, through all this, I was mostly concerned about Jules. He could catch pneumonia after all. But I was grateful that it was relatively warm and figured he could make it through. Still, you never know. It was a ridiculous amount of water and he could even drown in it. Who knew.

I walked halfway up the hill to the house and a kind passerby gave us a ride up the rest of the hill in his car. And then Khalida and Sharon showed up to give us a lift after I’d walked halfway down their driveway. Apparently the rain had been so heavy they hadn’t heard the phone. It was only sometime after I’d left the message that they saw that a new voice mail had arrived and checked for the message.

All ended well. Jules was cranky but safe. He ended up taking a nice long nap after we got him dry. And I finally had my big adventure. Staying alive in the most rugged conditions imaginable. Like Survivor but carrying a small child and having access to plenty of food and water.

I formed two alignments that day. One with Jules, who now only gives me a slightly skeptical look when I ask if we wants to go in the backpack again. And another with Costa Rica. My country. My people. My dead battery.

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