The past few days we’ve been busy unpacking and enjoying the tranquility. Not being disturbed by car horns, leaf blowers, and radios is sending me into sensory detox. I am actually experiencing a much anticipated lifestyle withdrawal. This withdrawal is accompanied by a less than anticipated loss of electricity. Sometimes it flickers on and off, while other times it just stays off for eight hours. The realtor didn’t tell us that the higher you go on the mountain, the more likely you will have trouble with your electrical lines.
Upon further investigation, Rob discovers the wires in the house are not grounded properly. During a thunderstorm, all the outlets pop, making us run around unplugging everything. The thunder also makes the phone ring, which is nice since it gives the illusion I have lots of friends calling me. Even though we have these electrical issues, the good news is we don’t have a suicide shower. I can shave my legs without electrocuting myself, something I am sure I will write in all my Christmas cards this year:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Finklestone,
Costa Rica is enchanting. I wash my hair by candlelight and have yet to be struck with several hundred volts of electricity.
God Bless Every One
My daily walks with Clementine up and down the mountain give me the opportunity to snoop around the development. Rumor has it the investors couldn’t build anymore because the municipality refused additional permits. This is now protected land, and it looks as if there will be no more construction. One of the houses I call the Barbie Dreamhouse because it has a funny pinkish stucco facade and looks like it’s around ten thousand square feet. No one lives there. I walk past it every day and stick my head in between the wrought iron gates to see if there is any activity. If there is someone, I’m sure they are sick of me doing this, but so far, the house looks empty.
Jim, the Jehovah’s Witness, owns the second house. I know his name is Jim, but occasionally he changes his name to Rodger. I never know which one to say, so I just address the guy as “hey you” when I see him. Last time we met, he told me Armageddon was coming. I quickened my pace and ate two ice cream sandwiches when I got back to the house. I thought it was a good time to indulge, considering pre-Armageddon calories never count.
Jim/Rodger works for the church on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and only comes back to the house a few times a year. He has absolutely no furniture in his house. I know this because he has absolutely no curtains on his windows. Rob thinks I’m nosy, but how can I avoid looking at his house? It’s on my way to the Barbie Dreamhouse, where I confess to my voyeurism. I explain to Rob that in some circles my behavior would be considered community watch. I would be applauded for my conscientious attention.
Rob just looks at me and tells me another Brooklyn story of someone getting stabbed in the head for being an undesired witness to something. He is never at a loss for these kinds of stories; some involve ice picks, while others are with sharpened screwdrivers. I sit down and listen to him like it’s a twisted after school special. He continues to lecture me like I’m his teenage daughter asking for the keys to the family car.
Since we are near the top of the mountain, we are at a higher altitude than the rest of the town. At the same time every afternoon, a cloud rolls in passing through the screens, under the doors, and taking over the house like a deadbeat third roommate. Rob thought the air was refreshing, so he opened all the windows to let the cloud float inside the house. After a couple of hours, it drifted away, leaving a layer of condensation on the walls, doors, and furniture. This condensation then turned into a layer of green mold on the walls, doors, and furniture. That explains our discovery of two cans of anti-mold Pledge under the kitchen sink. The good news is this will only occur in the rainy season. The bad news is a can of anti-mold Pledge costs ten dollars here.
What is it like living in a cloud forest? Not to sound snarky, but there is no other way to describe it—cloudy. While you are watching the television, you do it through a cloud. Doing a Sudoku puzzle? Yep, you’re trying to see the numbers through a cloud. I have to say, it’s kind of cool. If you had said I’d be living in a cloud a couple months ago, I would have thought you were crazy. But here I am, walking my dog in a cloud. Quite a heavenly experience.
Another fun thing about living here is Carlos, the caretaker of the development. I can usually find him cutting acres of grass with a weed whacker in an apron and hood ensemble that makes him look like a beekeeper or, depending on the angle, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He also cuts the shrubs with a machete, wielding it with gladiator-like precision.
I notice everyone here uses a machete, and it is as common to see someone with it strapped to their side as it is to see someone with a Blackberry in the states. I bought milk yesterday and stood in between two men talking with a machete in each of their hands. If this were ShopRite at home, I would have thrown myself up against the automatic doors to escape, conceivably trampling every child and elderly person in my path. But these men were just picking up some groceries after working in the coffee fields, and no one tried to chop me into little pieces.
Carlos is also responsible for getting the hydraulic gate fixed. We were given a remote clicker for it, and when we pressed the button, it creaked open like the gate from The Adams Family. We quickly realized the iron gate was too heavy, and the hydraulic system is not strong enough to open it. We drove in, clicked it closed, and it broke five minutes later. So far, it has stayed broken all week. Occasionally, Carlos takes out a pin to the hydraulic on one side so that only half the gate opens. This is supposedly for security reasons so that only a scooter could fit through and not a car. However, Rob and I squeezed our huge rental van through it, so unless the crooks come with an eighteen-wheeler, I am pretty sure they can get in. I also like that a company called Popeye makes the gate. The bread I buy at the market is from a bakery named Popeye. The way things are made here, I am inclined to think they are one and the same company.
There is another way out of the community. This exit is closer to our house but takes you down a very muddy, or dusty depending on the time of the year, road. The road has sharp switchbacks, is not paved, and takes you over the narrow crossing of a busy river. I thought it was a bridge until Rob observed that it is actually a giant metal drum. It allows water to pass through with a blanket of concrete thrown on top, a marvel of engineering ingenuity that was probably designed by the all-encompassing Popeye conglomerate. It is likely one season away from collapsing. That will leave us with only the hydraulic gate exit. I hope that they fix it soon, or Rob and I will have the added charm of driving through a river to get to our house.
In between pretending to get the gate fixed and cutting the grass, Carlos appears very friendly and always likes starting conversations with my husband. Carlos doesn’t speak any English, and from what I have observed from their conversations, he couldn’t care less that my husband does not understand him. Periodically, Rob tells him he doesn’t follow, but Carlos just ignores him and continues with some lengthy story that could involve buying a new tire for his dirt bike or his ideas on a Middle East peace treaty. We will never know. But Rob patiently stands there and listens to him. Many times, Carlos directs the conversation toward Rob’s muscles.
“Musculos grande,” Carlos says to Rob while he flexes his own. It appears Carlos is trying to impress Rob with his own physique. Rob shows him the dumbbells we brought down with us and the pull-up bar he installed. He is planning on getting back in shape and has already started his routine. I’m thinking that Carlos is lonely. I also notice he makes no comments when I flex my muscles.
Carlos’ son, Francisco, also works on the property. He is twenty years old and never smiles. This doesn’t bother me or Rob, but the Jehovah’s Witness gets offended. The kid seems okay to me, and he doesn’t have two names like Jim/Rodger. I would rather get no smiles from someone with one name than lots of smiles from someone with two names. Francisco also rides his dirt bike past our house but doesn’t return the same way. There is nowhere to go past our house but into the forest reserve. He must know some short cut or trail, and I imagine him dodging trees and blasting through rivers like an action adventure hero.
After a few days living here, I noticed someone walking five dogs. I’d heard about a woman the other gringos call The Crazy Dog Lady because she walks her dogs without a leash, and their barking annoys the other dogs in the neighborhood. She is originally from North Carolina and walks past my house every day at the same time. Her mutts run up to my house and urinate on the house posts, my yoga mat, and anything that has not been urinated on since the last time they were here. One day, I went out to introduce myself, and I quickly realized that my conversations with her always seem to be centered on animals. She told me her name was Dolores and she tries to save as many animals as she can. I don’t know if that makes her crazy or a maverick, but I like her and her love of our little four-legged friends.
Yesterday, she came carrying a long wooden stick across her neck and shoulders with a green parrot perched on top. She asked if I wanted the bird or any other dog she owns. Every day, I explain to her I can’t: my dog does not get along with others. But she continues to ask again as if we never had the conversation.
She then goes on to tell me she has been robbed seven times. In fact, every story she tells me ends with: then the next day I was robbed. Like, “There were these kids hanging by my house, and I ran over to them and shook my fists and told them to get the hell out of here. Then the next day I was robbed.”
Or, “I hired someone to cut my grass, and he wanted thirty dollars. I told him to get the hell out of here, and he is only getting ten. Then the next day I was robbed.”
Lastly, my favorite of her tirades was, “My neighbor told me that I was a lunatic, and I told him I’d rather be a lunatic than a raging alcoholic. Then the next day I was robbed.”
You get the picture.
I ask her if she changes her routine at all, and say that although I have only known her for a week, I can tell exactly what time she will be passing my house. Dolores says she leaves her car in the driveway so people will think she is home. I try to explain to her that this master security plan is not working and she might want to walk her dogs at different times during the day. She agrees, says I am the smartest person she’s ever met, and is going to sue the American Embassy for the break-ins. I wish her good luck, excuse myself, and return to the house.
Between Dolores and the multiple identities of Jim, there will definitely be lots of odd stories to tell my friends back home. I can always hope that the owners of the Barbie Dreamhouse will eventually show up and be less peculiar than my other neighbors, but having built a ten thousand square foot pink stucco house, what are the chances of that?