Dios está muerto. God is dead. I write them next to each other in the black sand on a beach a few minutes bike ride from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. For a moment, I believe I might just change someone’s life.
He would be walking down the beach. Perhaps he has just broken up with his girlfriend. Tears drip from his cheeks and become lost in the sea. ¿Porqué? He asks himself, ¿Porqué es Dios tan antipático? Then he sees what I’ve written in the sand. He leaves the beach just as sad, but disillusioned.
The ocean sweeps away my words, leaving only a faint outline of the letters I’ve written. The next wave obliterates them altogether. I don’t bother to write them again.
I walk back up to where I’ve left my bike leaning against a tree, the name of which I’ve been told many times but will never remember. I’ve rented the bike for the day for five dollars. One dollar less than my lodgings the previous night. Six bucks for a hammock a stone’s throw away from the ocean. There’s a convenient basket attached to the handlebars of my bike. Inside is my lunch: 1.25 liters of pink Fanta and a family pack of oreos-in-all-but-name. I love these treats, and circumstance had forced me to decide between them and a real lunch. I had lost my bank card the night before, and I had to conserve at least enough money for a bus ticket back to San José.
My return trip would be soon, so I meander towards a mother and daughter lying on a pair of colorful towels on the beach and ask, “¿Podría decirme el tiempo?” The mother struggles to respond to me in Spanish, but seems unable to do so. I had assumed they were Americans from their skin tone and flowery sun hats, but I always make a point of starting a conversation in Spanish, just in case. Also, I prefer to speak as much Spanish as I can; I need the practice. I explain to them that I speak English, and they are relieved. They tell me the time, and I still have a while until the bus leaves, so I stay to chat. I had been wrong. They’re Canadians.
I explain to them that I have a bus to catch and take my leave. I still have time, but I do not want to impose on them. So I return to my bike and start for Puerto Viejo. Once I start going fast enough, a wrapper flies out of my basket, so I stop and pick it up, placing it under the Fanta bottle so it won’t repeat the offense. Puerto Viejo is rather clean, and I want to keep it that way. San José on the other hand is a different story, but I don’t want to think about that.
On my way into the town, a man sitting in a tree calls out to me, “Hey there, rockstar. Do you want some pot?”
“No, gracias,” I reply. Others had offered me similar things, mostly in English. Still, I like this guy’s angle, both literally and otherwise. Undoubtedly my hair had attracted his attention. It was past my shoulders, uncombed, and recently bathed in salt water. The day before I had been talking to a vietnam veteran and he told me that if I didn’t smoke pot, I should really cut my hair. He had also told me how useful tramp stamps were. He had said that’s the thing to look for in a woman.
* * *
It’s St. Patrick’s day.
I’m sitting in a cab talking to the driver and listening to the radio. The traffic is terrible, perhaps the worst I’ve seen in my life, especially at this time of night. At this point I’m pretty sure I won’t make it to the soccer game, but I’m not too worried. The cab driver is nice. They all seem to like to know where I’m from. Invariably when I say I’m from New York, they assume I’m from the City.
“No, soy de Ithaca. Está unas horas al norte del la cuidad de Nueva York.”
“Okay… ¿En Connecticut?”
Then we hear on the radio that all the tickets are sold out. I tell the driver to turn around and drop me off at central avenue. He asks me where on central avenue. Anywhere is good.
I step out of the cab onto central avenue. San José is far from asleep, though darkness fell a number of hours ago. Spread out on tarps and sheets all over the street are trinkets, clothing, cheap electronics and DVDs. When I’m bored I buy a movie. They’re only two dollars, and they have titles that haven’t even been released yet. This was most certainly illegal. The fancier vendors have a portable DVD player for you to preview the DVD you’re buying, just in case it is of poor quality. They all are.
I don’t get a movie tonight. It’s St. Patrick’s day, and I’m half-irish. That’s enough I suppose. I wander around San José for a while until I spy a bar with an Irish flag hanging outside. I go in, and find the place filled to bursting with foreigners. In an act of ex-patriotism, I buy a Guinness. The young woman at the bar does not bother to ID me. I smile. I am old enough to drink in Costa Rica, but I still feel as if I’m getting away with something.
I go to sit down at a table in the corner, observing the crowd. This repose does not last long, however, because a rowdy Canadian comes up to me and explains the importance of not sitting down on St. Partick’s day. We get to talking and we exchange our reasons for being in Costa Rica. We’re both students, both learning Spanish, but neither of us are speaking Spanish. He introduces me to some of his friends; most are a bit more drunk than he is.
In search of a conversation topic, I explain to them that what I’m holding is my first beer ever. This turns out to be a grievous mistake. I am immediately offered enough alcohol to inebriate a sizable donkey. I decline as politely as I can.
A girl from New York City, her voice completely ruined by cigarettes, asks me how I could have gone so long without having a beer. I explain to her that I’m eighteen. “If you had lived in New York, it wouldn’t have mattered,” she replies. At this point, that I realize escaping a drunk person’s notice is remarkably easy.
In search of more intelligent conversation, I introduce myself to another man from New York City. A bad side of middle-aged man of Italian descent who probably has family in the mob. He is rather well-off, and living in a gated community in Costa Rica. He explains to me how nice it is to live in a place like that, because one could bring young women there and they would be impressed and probably have sex with him. Also, if that failed, high-class whores were rather cheap here. Indeed, Costa Rica is a “middle-age man’s paradise.” I left the bar.
Upon reaching fresh air, I take a deep breath. I’ve enough for one night. I walk to the bus stop and catch the next one home to Sabanilla.
* * *
I sweat under the heat of the sun as I walk to the bus stop and wait. Soon, a one handed beggar arrives and begins asking for money from each person in the line. I don’t have a lot of money. I certainly can’t afford to help every beggar in San José, but my heart leaps out to the man. He stands in front of me and says, “Por favor, Señor, tengo hambre.”
“¿Quiere pan? Tengo pan.” I say.
“Sí,” he replies.
I reach into my backpack and take out a loaf of bread. I remove two slices, then reach further into my bag and pull out some Goober. Without a knife, I simply spread the Goober onto the bread with my fingers and hand it to the man.
“Muchas gracias, Señor.”
The bus has arrived, and I hurry to pack my things back in my bag before getting on. From my seat, I see him tuck the sandwich under his handless arm and walk away.