A British Beard.
The real world arrives at 2.20pm on Iberia flight 6313 sporting a large beard and a huge holdall. We arrive at the airport a little early all excited which means I talk too much and make bad jokes and Jamie looks stoic and unmoved.
Aren’t you excited?
I ask, puzzled.
Yes I’m really excited!
Replies Jamie without moving his facial features. He folds his arm and gazes beyond me searching for his brother in the crowds of arrivals. I suppose this is a manly way of being excited so I hop about and sing on my own while Jamie keeps his eyes firmly fixed to the double doors that signify the arrival of someone new to talk to who won’t repeatedly say,
Pay attention to meeeee!
And hop or sing made up tunes or laugh out loud at photos of cats in boxes or poke him and say shall I get off the bike now? Its a bit steep ,I think I should…Jamie?
We wait for an hour and flight 6313 disappears from the arrivals board. European looking people gradually stop filtering through the doors looking glassy eyed and we begin to wonder if, perhaps, Michael has missed his flight and is wandering around Madrid airport on his own. Fifteen minutes later another belch of Spanish people are emitted through the doors, the taxi drivers spring to attention and clear them in seconds to reveal Michael looking about expectantly. With a massive beard.
We have been forewarned that there will be new and exuberant facial hair but it still takes me a second to recognise him.
There he is!
I say for the twenty fifth time. I have been playing an annoying game called That’s not Michael and Jamie has told me off for saying there he is and raising expectations so for a second, I’m not sure my words sink in and then we are knocking on the glass divider and pointing and grinning. Big hugs and greetings and you’re so tanned! ensue before we bundle him and his giant holdall in to a taxi which goes the wrong way and charges us double the price of getting here because it’s Latin America and reasons like that.
We are too delighted by our new companion to care much and after a long circular drive back to the airport and the 8 minute drive from there, we arrive at the guest house tucked in the suburbs of Alajuela. We show Michael the little swimming pool, kitchen and living area and he coos and says how nice it all is and then he is shown to his room. The area is mysteriously expensive to stay in so we have booked the cheapest rooms we could find. Our little double is briht and comfortable, free of cockroaches and even sports a lamp. Michael’s single room looks like it used to be an airing cupboard. A single bed is all that will fit in the room, no cupboards, no lamps. He reports in the morning that bed was so loosely put together that he could actually rock himself to sleep. Since he is red eyed with tiredness by 8.30pm, I don’t see this as a bad thing.
The whole evening of drinking cold beers in the lounge and chatting in a nearby pizza restaurant is a curious mix of totally surreal and weirdly normal. We catch up on househunting, Jeremy Corbyning, raining life in Britain and share monkey based stories. We make plans for the next three weeks, we look at aps and we point; here, here and along this road here. For our week minus Michael’s girlfriend Anika, we decide on a big loop beginning and ending in the mountains. After that, back to San Jose, pick up Anika and head beachwards finishing in Montezuma where we have just come from.
We left Montezuma on the Nicoya Penninsula after seven nights with the assertion that it was a good place to bring them back to quick smart. There are beaches, monkeys and margaritas available in spadefuls which is just what the doctor ordered. Being that Anika and Michael are both medics, they should know. I visited tiny Montezuma two years back and remembered it rather fondly and, having burst in from Nicaragua, it seems that a week of enjoying the uiet beaches and tumbling waves there might be just what we need.
Montezuma has changed only very, very subtly in the last two years. The restaurant that sold the addictive prawns in coconut sauce has changed hands and will no longer be able to feed my habit. The ice cream parlour has expanded to a large premises overlooking the tiny high street. The homemade salsa atthe cafe on the corner is no longer homemade and the ceviche man sadly doesn’t come round anymore. Apart from that, the same long haired hippies line the road with tables of the same handmade jewellery, the supermarket still sells the groovy tupperware and the waves still crash on the sand. We pass a truly relaxing week there ambling down to the different beaches to semi drown ourselves in the surf and drinking rum. We buy a body board and occasionally succeed in riding in with the waves to the sight of monkeys on the beach riffling through our rucksack. A large iguana stands guard and is rewarded later with sandy pieces of ham while the monkeys look on enviously.
Jamie is entranced by the little capuchins who sit busily in the canopy scratching and grooming. He follows them in to the trees to take photographs of the baby clinging to it’s mother’s back, head the size of a lime. He is so engrossed he doesn’t notice that he is surrounded by furry black bodies, little white faces ready to pounce if he so much as glances at that baby again. He quietly backs off and joins me in the sea to be pummeled for a while and revel in the smian glory. The sea is warm and clear and the sky clouds over, sprinkling us with cool rain and nursing our sunburn. We plod back through the wet sand discussing plans and getting soaked to the skin. We find a marooned tree frog on the beach crouching low in the sand and looking stricken. I carry it on a leaf, wary of poison, and deposit it at the base of a tree that stands at the edge of the forest.
When we return, dripping with rain to our cockroachy hotel, we find the room next to us is now occupied by two girls; one Australian and one French. They have met on the bus and found the room together though its not clear what exactly they have in common except both being here. We offer them a glass of rm and mango while we fiddle with elastic for our pannier covers. The Australian girl is easily persuaded but the French girls declines, she doesn’t drink. I offer her juice instead but she doesn’t drink juice either and then I’m not sure what to say. Her rebuttal is slightly accusatory like I should have known she didn’t want either offering. I suddenly feel very English and silly in the face of her cool Gallicity so I burble some questions at her which she answers as if someone is poking her with a stick. The Australian girl tells us she is travelling until the money runs out. She loves it, she says. I tell them I am a little in awe of people who just keep going, who don’t run home when they get tired and who actually want to carry on indefinitely.
Would you want to carry on?
I ask the French girl. She snorts and replies,
Of course not, I want to go home!
As if my question was completely preposterous. Hmm. What to say? I drink a bit more rum and Jamie takes up the slack by asking where the Australian is from. Brisbane apparently and she bloody loves the sunshine. She loves the heat here, the gleam and glare of the place and sighs in despair when we tell her we miss the English weather sometimes. We continue the chat until its time to head to a local bar that does nightly film screenings and then ask them to join us.
It’s only Slumdog Millionaire but it’s something to stare at for a while….
I explain and the Australian stands up, ready to come with us and endure Danny Boyle at his least inventive for a couple of hours.
It’s such a….great film…..yay Slumdog Millionaire! Would you like to come?
I ask the French girl and she snorts again as if we asked her to go hunting for unicorns and says no before sitting back down. A little fazed we murmur our seeyoulaters and head to the bar. The place is mostly empty and a skunk skitters about on the shiny tiles in the glimmering light the film casts over the room. I think about the moody French girl for a while and decide that she probably isn’t as mardy as she seems. Her behaviour strikes me much more as that of someone who has very little self esteem. Perhaps she was bullied, I wonder. Perhaps every irritating, cheerful person she meets is just another taunt. I don’t know but I leave the bar later feeling a little sorry not to have pushed her to join us. When we get back, their bedroom light is switched off so I have to concede that we won’t be coaxing her out of her shell tonight. Instead we sit in the warm darkness chatting to the Australian girl and drinking rum. She seems a little distracted, perhaps a little sad and when we ask her more, she reveals that she gave up her home and possessions to do this trip, there is nothing waiting in Brisbane for her but a cat and a dog in the care of some friends. The cat sitters aren’t replying to her messages or calls and she wonders if something has happened that they don’t want to tell her. Then, in a strange moment of half smile, she tells us a traveller friend of hers drowned in the swimming pool in Nicaragua after taking too many drugs and drinking too much. Because she is smiling, we think she must be using an Australianism for drunk but she is serious. Her friend drowned a few weeks back and she is smiling because she doesn’t know how else to say it. She is smiling because she doesn’t quite seem to believe the idea herself. She didn’t know him well, she explains, only travelled in a group with him for a couple of weeks but they got on well.
We thought you were joking. We thought you meant he was drunk….
No, she’s not joking. And in the reflective moment, she drinks some rum and changes the subject. We talk some more until, in the gloom, a skunk scurries down the stairs, followed fifteen minutes later by a raccoon which has us all gathered around with cameras searching the darkened palm trees beyond the hotel wall in vain. The lost raccoon seems to signal bedtime and we say goodnight to each other quietly.
In the morning the French girl is studiously ignoring us on her laptop and the Australian returns from a walk to the monkey hangout we have told her about. She is beaming and shows us her pictures, the air of sadness vanished completely. We head to the local waterfall after she has gone in to their room and is gone by the time we return. We are dripping and muddy having scaled squelchy, rooty slopes and puddly trails to reach the higher waterfall. We dive in to the water, the exact shade of milky Yorkshire tea, I note, and enjoy the cool water. Local boys climb the rope swing and sit on top of the overhanging branch the swing hangs from, high above the pool. They are showing off with no real pleasure in the activity. It’s just what they do to one up the tourists. Gradually, all the male backpackers have a go and flop unceremoniously in to the opaque waters with embarrassed laughter and titters from the audience. Jamie stares at the rope from time to ime and I can tell he wants a go but doesn’t like the attention it will bring him. He bides his time by jumping off the rocks above us in to the pool for photos until he smacks in to the water hard and swims across like a damp puppy clutching his side, face aflame from the impact. The crowds disperse until there are hardly any people there and, recovering briefly from his ill judged dive, he clambers up to the swing and has a go. Like the other tourists, it’s harder than it looks and his pride is dented by a languorous, feet dipping arc which ends in a tumble in to the water and the lone solidarity of an onlooker who empathises. Jamie resurface looking embarrassed and shows me his hands which are rope burned and sore.
Harder than I thought….
He says considering the dangling, blue rope and I suggest we bolster some egos with a couple of cold beers back at Cockroach Towers. He agrees and we clamber up the vertical path clutching at roots and rocks and slipping down mud, worn smooth by foot traffic until we reach the road. The French girl is still on her laptop pretending the English never happened and I feel a blip in my empathy levels which I swallow with the can of Imperial beer. It is chilly and tingly on my tongue and washes away the hot afternoon quite delightfully. The rain begins, tumbling down from the cloudy skies and beating at the palms, streaming from the rooftop and filling the patio with a delicious cool. We are just about ready to leave Montezuma for San Jose, but watching the rain as the evening darkens and the sodium lights turn the foliage a water streaked black is a very good way to end our stay here. I stand at the fence watching the pipes chugging with rain water for a bit and feel very pleased to have come back here, then wander back in to our room to wash off the sand. We watch an episode of The Wire, a new obsession of mine, and drink hot cups of milky tea, the colour of a waterfall. Tomorrow, we pack the bike and head to San Jose. We have a little chunk of home to collect.
Salvadorian curtido (pickled salad for pupusas as promised)
1/2 head green cabbage, core removed and finely shredded
2 carrots, grated or sliced in to slivers
1 litre boiling water
1 large onion finely sliced or diced
240 ml cider vinegar
120 ml cold water
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
1 hot jalapeno sliced finely
Combine the cabbage and carrot in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over the mixture. Allow the mixture to steep for 5 minutes then drain well. Return the cabbage and carrots to the bowl. Mix in the onion, vinegar, cold water, herbs and chilli. Toss until all ingredients are combined. Leave for a minimum of hours in a cool place, preferably a day in a jar before serving to allow for slight fermentation. Serve heaped on pupusas with salsa roja or chilli sauce