Posted by David
on Aug 7, 2003 in Upside-down Hippo
| 0 comments
Still more . . . you will find it is not quite the outlook advanced by Lonely Planet.
WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION, PART SIX
Costa Rica: Playa Zancudo
Life, it is said, began in the sea, and human civilization mushroomed on its shores. It is true that oceans and lakes and rivers border the world’s most advanced cities, so one is led to wonder why tracts of similar real estate are commended for what amounts to devolution.
I hate beaches. Some may consider them lovely, but I have never known one that has not attempted to make a virtue of sand in the bedclothes, cancerous sunburns, the ever-present aroma of dead fish, and other atrocities that people would not stand for in their everyday lives. Our beachfront accommodations are a fine example of this. The ramshackle cabinas are constructed entirely of rotting wood, ants and lizards prowl in every corner, someone forgot to put glass in the windows, and the only amenity I spotted was a hook upon which to hang one’s towel. Add the sound of crashing waves, and civilized people consider this heaven on earth; transplant the whole squalid thing next to a freeway, or to the inner city, and the same civilized people would march up and down with picket signs protesting the inhumane conditions.
Did I mention I hate beaches?
I hate the sand, I hate bright sunlight, I especially hate the water, and I look terrible in a bathing suit. This last did not prove to be too much of a problem at our cabina, which was so remote that we might as well have been alone on the surface of another planet, but the others were present in spades. The establishment was co-managed by a German woman named Elizabeth, who announced immediately upon our arrival that they were out of eggs and napkins, and said with a chuckle that their Internet café (supposedly the only one in Playa Zancudo, and the only reason I agreed to this leg of our trip to begin with) was out of order.
Rob, naturally, felt as if we had discovered paradise. When the idea of a trip to Costa Rica came up, I initially protested because I did not want to go to the beach. “We don’t have to go to the beach,” he said. “There are other things to do.” After I bought the plane tickets, the tune changed to, “Well, we can’t go to Costa Rica without going to the beach!” Later, he tried to sneak in two beaches, and I am fairly certain he expected there to be a beach at Lake Arenal, the first stop in our Central American journey (blessedly, there was not). Clearly, he has some sort of beach fetish, to which I am thoroughly and unfortunately immune.
For his sake, I tried to put a brave face on things, but when I discovered the layer of slimy moss on the hammocks and the ants that had burrowed into the wood of the only table in the vicinity, transforming the entire thing into a high-rise colony, I retreated into the cabina and refused to emerge.
I did not sulk for the rest of the afternoon as planned. Rob bought me a beach towel with a picture of dogs playing poker, which lured me out into the hammock area once again. I also went swimming and had a decent time at it, although the waves attempted to sweep me out to sea. I have definite preferences, and I so love to grumble if given half a reason, but I think one of my better qualities is that I eventually try to make the best of a bad situation. And the situation refused to improve: both the fan and the showerhead in the cabina gave me electrical shocks, someone stole Rob’s wristwatch and Birkenstocks off the porch, and we learned the hard way that zancudo (as in Playa Zancudo) is the local way of saying mosquito.Yes: Mosquito Beach. Still, the food was good and the proprietors interesting and talkative. And I realized that, distasteful as I found the conditions, they were superior to the quality of life endured by three-quarters the country I was visiting. I just did not see the point of paying good money in order to suffer, myself.
In any event, none of this dampened Rob’s spirits very much (although everything else in the vicinity was so damp it oozed water). He found the ocean to be “magical” and organized his days around immersing himself in it at times when his skin would not burn too much or the ferocious tide would not sweep him off his feet. He also went on extended walks to explore the area. After we learned that a local beach club had an Internet connection for rent, I joined him on an excursion to check it out; the entire compound was as deserted as a ghost town except for three lizards that did not seem to know much about the World Wide Web.
A crisis arose when we discovered that, not only had Rob’s possessions been stolen, my new bathing suit was missing, as well. Of course, I was ready to depart immediately, and Rob astounded me by agreeing. At that point, naturally, I had to take the opposite approach and insist we stay. After a highly stressful discussion, we calmed down and swam naked in the ocean (not because my bathing suit was stolen: I had borrowed one of Rob’s and just decided to take it off, and he followed suit, so to speak). Things heated up later in the evening when lizards fell on our heads during dinner; the meal was interrupted at other times by caged birds that shrieked like murder victims and the necessity to swat away the kamikaze attacks of a swarm of mosquitoes.
In an impromptu game of Hangman, I spelled out the word nightmare . . . but we both laughed when he guessed it.
In an effort to be more positive, I decided that Playa Zancudo was not the worst beach I had ever visited. That distinction must go to Puerto Angel, a small beach Erich dragged me to on Mexico’s southwest shore, where a trail of red ants marched down the center of the hotel room, ants had also built an elaborate colony in the breakfast sugar bowl, spiders had so infested the hammocks that one could not tell where their webs ended and the fiber of the hammocks began, and all of the food—even the food that was not seafood, which I hate—tasted like fish. It was there, also, that I learned to my eternal dismay that roosters do not crow just once to herald the dawn and then call it a day; sunrise is when they start crowing, and they put up enough fuss until dusk to give a confirmed urbanite such as myself a nervous breakdown.
The one good thing about Playa Zancudo is that, between bouts of scratching the constellation of mosquito bites that spanned my body from head to toe, I made more progress on my book there than I ever have in my life. Although I had to keep my computer hidden from thieves and beware the random power surges that could have disintegrated its memory, I averaged about four pages a day . . . no great shakes, perhaps, but my previous average was approximately point-oh-one pages a day. Apparently the secret to being prolific is either to be uncomfortable, impossibly remote, or bored to tears, a fact somehow absent from my writing school curriculum.
Elizabeth, who ran the restaurant, was a bit of a mystery. A quiet German woman whose four dogs and two parrots raised a ceaseless commotion around the compound, she was an expert chef who created masterpieces with the scant ingredients available locally. She would have been a welcome addition to any restaurant in the world, so what was she doing in Playa Zancudo? Perhaps the answer lay in the stars, as she at one point claimed to have written a book on astrology, the file for which was lost in a computer crash as she finished the penultimate chapter. Rob and I became quite fond of her, although there were encounters that left us scratching our heads in befuddlement. As there was no established menu for the restaurant (supplies being unpredictable in the local markets during the off season), Elizabeth debriefed us upon our arrival as to the sorts of things we liked for breakfast. “I like gallo pinto,” I said, referring to a local beans-and-rice dish that is commonly served for that meal, “or anything, really.”
“How about pancakes?” she asked.
“Sure,” we said.
At breakfast the next morning, she asked what we would like. “What do you have?” we asked, remembering she had announced the day before that there were no eggs.
“How about some pancakes?” was the response. We said that would be great, and as she served them, it became obvious that she (like my former boyfriend Erich—also German—did when I first met him) translated crepes as pancakes. This was fine with me, as it had been years since I had had a good crepe, and hers were beyond excellent.
The next morning, she again asked what we would like. “Oh, anything,” we said again, not wanting to request something she was unprepared to make. “Gallo pinto,pancakes, eggs . . .”
“Oh, you like pinto. I made pinto yesterday because you said you liked it for breakfast, but then you requested pancakes, so . . . it no longer exists.” The last four words in a German accent were chilling.
We were horrified. “But you didn’t tell us!” we protested. “You suggested we have pancakes!” She shrugged, her face a mask of resigned tragedy, and went back into the gecko-infested kitchen to whip up some delicious omelets.
All right, don’t tell anyone, but I sort of liked the beach. I swam every day and quickly mastered the fine art of bogie boarding. (Yes, I know it is spelled “boogey boarding,” but it is illogical to evoke the boogeyman if unnecessary.) I got a tan, which I always find gratifying, because it is one of the only things my body does like other people’s bodies (although at a much slower rate). I got an immense amount of writing done. I read some great books. I learned to live with sand in the sheets (although I swept the cabina out three times a day) and was quickly able to face lizards in the bathroom without batting an eye. There is also some appeal to being miles from the nearest television set, although it might have been nicer if every Internet connection in the vicinity had not simultaneously combusted.
So Playa Zancudo was fine, although it was quite enough beach to last me for a long while. Then again, if I knew what getting back to San Jose would entail, I would have happily stayed there forever.
More photos below.