Last week was Semana Santa here in Costa Rica. “Semana Santa” is Spanish for “praise the Lord and pass the sunscreen.” Every Easter, the whole country shuts down, and any Tico who has a tent and at least ten bucks takes off an entire week and heads to the beach. This extended vacation is a great way to convert people.
“Sure, we make you to go to church on both Sunday and Saturday in Costa Rica, but look at the vacation package we offer!”
Rae had the week off from school, too. So when one moves to an isolated mountaintop jungle in the middle of Costa Rica, where does one go for vacation to get away from it all?
Why, Drake Bay, of course!
Drake Bay is hidden way down in the southwest corner of the country. There’s nothing most people would call an actual road leading to it, though there are various trails you can take if you have a Jeep, ATV or motorcycle. You have to cross half a dozen rivers, though, and lord only knows what those rivers look like in the rainy season.
Somebody hacked out a runway through the jungle, so you can take a single-prop plane if you’re feeling lucky. Our friends Pascale and Laure are visiting from France, and they took the plane to Drake and lived to tell about it. Still, bouncing around in a tin can 1,500 feet above the ground then landing on a glorified footpath is not Pam’s preferred method of travel, so we opted for taking a boat.
Drake Bay turned out to be one of the more undeveloped places we’ve been to in Costa Rica.
For starters, there is no dock or port of any kind. Boats just back up to the shore as far as they can, then their passengers jump out and wade ashore. As long as the surf is tame this isn’t really a problem. Seldom will you have to go much more than knee-deep into the water. (Several boats flipped here during the tsunami last month, though.)
Secondly, Drake Bay just got internet service five months ago. This sounds at least mildly primitive until you realize it wasn’t until five years ago that Drake Bay got electricity.
And lastly, only 400 people live there. It ain’t no Saint-Tropez.
The town is about what you’d expect, which is nothing much. One dirt road runs through the place. Three or four cruddy restaurants, a few shacks where people sell t-shirts, and one dilapidated grocery store litter both sides of the road. A large, open-air cinder block building dominates on end of the street. It’s the local evangelical church. You can hear singing coming from the place at almost any hour of the day.
We had looked on TripAdvisor.com to find a place to stay, and finally settled on a bed-and-breakfast that got rave reviews. Previous guests stated (correctly) that it was very comfortable. Several reviewers mentioned (correctly) that it was in a nice location. And practically everyone who stayed there spoke (correctly) of how friendly the hosts were.
One thing that no one on TripAdvisor mentioned was that in addition to the hosts being friendly, they are also bat shit crazy.
I will call our hosts “Paul” and “Amy.”
Paul and Amy moved to Drake Bay from Reno about five years ago and opened their small bed-and-breakfast. They actually live in a small casita behind the one they rent out. Between the two buildings is an outdoor kitchen which we all shared.
Paul and Amy are both in their late 50s. Paul has a small frame but is in very good shape and practically bounces everywhere he goes. He’s always quick with a joke and eager to make conversation.
Amy has a perky personality and shares Paul’s sense of humor and chatty nature, but she doesn’t have the same spring to her step. She seems to exist in her own, much stronger, gravitational field. Her blond hair hangs straight down as if each strand is tied to a lead weight. She shuffles along when she walks. Her over-sized glasses constantly slip down her nose and threaten to fall off her face. Even her clothes droop, like she’s wearing wet laundry. Nature seems to be on the verge of reducing Amy to a puddle.
Paul and Amy are firm believers in their lifestyle, and the trouble began when they started forcing that lifestyle on us.
“What time is breakfast tomorrow, Amy?”
“That’s a tad on the early side, isn’t it?”
“Well, we go to bed at 7:00pm and get up at 3:00am down here.”
“Yeah, but I’m not from Down Here. I’m from Up There, on the outskirts of Where Normal People Live. So tomorrow we’ll skip breakfast and have bacon, eggs and toast for lunch at 7:30am., OK?”
There were other similar types of issues.
“Amy, the Internet cut out last night. Can you fix it?”
“Oh, it didn’t ‘cut out.’ I turn it off every evening before I go to bed. People don’t need to shop on Amazon in the middle of the night. You’re here to enjoy nature!”
“But I wasn’t buying anything on Amazon. I was trying to email a friend who’s going through a very serious family crisis.”
“I’m sure your friend is fine. Plenty of time to email her later!”
You get the idea.
I would have protested more, but to be honest, Amy scared me. Though she moved slowly, she spoke in forced, overly cheerful tones that always seemed to verge on screaming. She also sported a painted-on grin that was less Julie Andrews/”Mary Poppins” and more Kathy Bates/”Misery.”
When we were all sitting on the back porch, she would occasionally call me over and tell me she wanted to show me something. I figured it was always even money as to whether she wanted to show me a hummingbird in her garden or a human head in her freezer.
So I decided to let the early wake-up calls and poor internet service slide for the rest of the trip.
There were other areas of concern, though.
When we got home after our fishing trip on the first day, Paul asked me if I wanted to enjoy a cold beer with him out on the back porch.
Hell yeah. Paul and I were going to get along just fine.
I opened two bottles and handed one to Paul. Before I could say “cheers,” Paul knocked back his beer in two gulps.
I like to think that I can hold my liquor, but I quickly abandoned any thought of trying to keep up with Paul. In the next hour, he drank a six-pack and eventually dug into the back of his freezer for a plastic bottle of rum.
He and I were sitting at the little kitchen table on the back porch finishing the last two beers. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon.
“Sure was a beautiful day today,” Paul said.
“Couldn’t have been better.”
He took another long pull on his beer.
“So Nick, what’s your personal relationship with the Lord?”
“Come again, Paul?”
“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”
“Well, not yet. I was going to check my email and maybe take a nap first.”
This was the first of several occasions when religion came up.
Most of the time it was in the form of harmless, off-hand comments slipped into conversations, but Rae mentioned to me and Pam one night that Amy had asked her outright if she believed in God.
Now, this question had come up before in Ouray. I had instructed Rae to answer by saying, “How can I believe in a god that lets Mike Krzyzewski mold the minds of young men?” but instead she told Amy that she was Buddhist, her father was Christian and her mother was Jewish.
According to Rae, Amy replied, “Well at least one of your parents believes in Christ.”
After she finished telling us this story, Rae leaned over and whispered, “I think they’re Christian.”
I think so, too, Rae. Now help me finish plastering this fake wall for your mother to sleep behind tonight.
For the rest of the trip, I was nervous about leaving Rae alone in a room with Amy or Paul for more than ten seconds. Rae already spends enough time bitching at me and telling me I’m doing things wrong. I don’t need her sifting through the Bible for even more ammunition to use against me.
It was tough to get a read on them.
I don’t know many evangelicals, but I assumed most of them didn’t drink a 12-pack of beer a day. And Paul, who earlier had asked about my relationship with Christ, would drop lines like, “”I hate weak coffee. It’s like having sex with a condom. It’ll get you up, but you won’t enjoy it.”
The next day he also said he liked strong coffee because “it makes my dick hard.”
I never actually witnessed Paul making coffee, but I did switch to orange juice for the remainder of the trip.
Every new conversation with them always made you question whether or not you had correctly understood the previous one.
At various times during our stay they railed against:
1. Plastic grocery bags (OK, they’re hippies.)
2. The I.R.S. (Scratch that. They’re Tea Partiers.)
3. Marijuana prohibition (Rev up the microbus. They’re hippies again.)
4. The oppressive federal government as a whole (Sorry. Skip the microbus. We’re back on the Tea Party Express. I particularly loved this discussion because Paul and Amy made most of their money via contracts with the B.L.M.)
5. Capitalism (Bingo! Problem solved. They’re definitely stinking hippies.)
6. The A.C.L.U., because they made Quaker Oats remove Aunt Jemima’s do-rag. (Hmm. Racist tea party Civil War reënactors?)
“The do-rag was tradition!” said Paul.
“So what? Slavery was a tradition, too,” said Pam.
(Bad mouth the ACLU to Pam and brace for impact.)
But ultimately, when Paul and Amy weren’t trying to convert Rae to Christianity, deprive us all of sleep, or cut off all electronic communication with the outside world, they actually were very nice hosts. They cooked tasty, albeit early, meals. They offered exciting tours of the area. They provided plenty of interesting local information.
I suppose the moral of the story is this: If you vacation in a place where the sun beats on your head all day, there are no roads leading out, and electricity is considered a newfangled contraption, you’d have to be crazy to think the people living there are going to be normal.