One of the coolest things about visiting a new country is that you cross paths with a lot of different people. As a writer, I was suddenly surrounded by a whole bunch of new characters that may just make an appearance in a future book (or perhaps the one I’m working on for NaNoWriMo in just two days). On one of our Costa Rica mornings, I woke up early and took inventory of all the interesting people we’d met thus far.
Oct 20 – morning
There’s a man here, that tourist who nearly ran us over with his excitement about being here, who claims his wife is una tica. He seems to be very proud of this fact, as he’s repeated it several times. Two days into his trip, we’ve yet to see this mysterious tica. It makes me wonder if there is a tica at all, or if he’s just made her up for this vacation. I can’t help but feel he’d make such an interesting character for a book – a lonely man who’s a cross between Martin Scorcese and Woody Allen who is outgoing and obnoxious and loves to brag about his beautiful native wife, but is actually unmarried and lives alone with a fish. Maybe not a main character, but an interesting side character.
Yesterday, the family I saw had character all over them. The mom and dad were typically oblivious, enjoying an afternoon of cocktails at yet another family vacation. The kids were used to this treatment, entitled. The girl was slightly embarrassed by her family, the boy a bit unhappy – like a typical 12 year old. He was adamant that their next vacation be to Greece.
There was the old tycoon who owned the restaurant we were at. He was probably 45, but in his second childhood he’d bleached his hair blond and walked around in shorts and a tank top. He looked like a California surfer, but was actually from Ohio. “What made you decide to buy a restaurant in Costa Rica?” we asked him. “Ohio,” was his answer. He lived partly there and partly here. His restaurant had two happy hours, and the bartender didn’t skimp on the alcohol. Having only owned the bar for two months, he seemed overly eager in a charming way as he greeted guests of his restaurant. But being that it’s the slow season, he might not make it to the heavy tourist season.
The woman with the jewelry I bought for DQ was a tiny little thing, dressed in shorts and a tiny t-shirt with a very short haircut. Her son was a big boy at 11, and kept tugging at his mom to go because he was hungry. She kept talking though. She told us how she had to hide food from him. But he had to hide cereal from her because she loved it so much. I got the impression it was just the two of them, their only income from the jewelry. I imagined her working hard on these every night, purchasing stones and materials with the little income she received, her son eating up most of her profits. But I also imagined her with a bit of a rebellious wild streak, perhaps easy with the men and maybe not the most fit mother in reality.
There was the homeless guy at the restaurant, teetering from all the alcohol he’d consumed. He walked right up to one of the tables and just started to eat from their food much to their bewilderment. “He doesn’t look like he belongs with them,” Shawn had noted, both of us missing the initial appearance of the man. It was clear that he wasn’t part of the group when he wobbled away. I wonder what he was thinking as he came up to eat off strangers plates. Was he mad about the tourists who had so much money they threw it away on overpriced food? Did he stare at their plates, mustering up the courage to get some much needed sustenance? Did it even occur to him that their food was not his own? One thing I loved was that the tourists did not shame the man as he ate from their plates. They found humor in it, but did not chase him away or yell at him. It was kind of a cool scene.
Our tour guide was a character in himself, totally funny with a humor that crossed language and accent barriers. He bragged about his trips and why his tours were better than the other tours. “I don’t know why, it’s just nature,” was his response to all the wonders of the rain forest. He’d make calls throughout the tour, and I imagined someone on the other end being informed when to let the crocodile out, cue the monkeys, place the friendlier crabs within reach…
Our favorite waitress, a tica with an American attitude, is one tough chick. We passed by her one afternoon on her way home from work, and she was riding a motorcycle. She reminds us of one of our coworkers, Jaime, in her voice and mannerisms. She’s been great at explaining different things to us, from culture to who we should go to for a snorkeling tour. “I know a guy,” she told us, very valuable words on a trip like this. Knowing a guy means offering someone something familiar, sharing secrets most locals won’t discover, and possibly getting a deal in the process – or not. It’s also about helping out a friend of a “friend”.
Speaking of familiarity, we’ve been noticing lots of familiar faces in strangers. We’ve seen people who remind us of our coworkers, parents, friends….
“If you look hard enough, you’re going to discover the same people at your new school that you were friends with at your old school,” DQ told Taz as he struggled to make new friends. She listed off her new friends, naming the old friends whose mold they fit into. Taz admitted that one of his new friends was very much like one of his old friends.
This truth crosses countries as well, judging by the familiar faces and voices we keep running into. This really is a small world, filled with the same people over and over, just with different customs and circumstances. It makes even the most far away place seem not so strange after all, keeping home close by until the plane touches down on local soil.
Another post about what we did today coming this evening. With photos. Stay tuned!