Fortune and Misfortune in La Fortuna — By Jennifer Shipp
Central America Costa Rica North America

Fortune and Misfortune in La Fortuna — By Jennifer Shipp

Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
A row of Neem trees lines a dirt road on the right. Arenal Volcano is in the background.

This weekend seemed to last as long as by itself as the preceding two weeks. We were going to Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. I thought that I had read that the volcano was no longer erupting, but I was hoping that perhaps the information was old or incorrect. Either way, I was excited to see a volcano. I figured we’d come up with things to do once we got there. There was hiking and boating and all kinds of outdoorsy things for tourists to do in La Fortuna and Arenal National Park.

But we didn’t do any of them.

It’s not that I’m upset about “missing” tourist activities. On the contrary, I would feel like an ass to have forfeited the incredible opportunity we had to see some authentic insanity in its natural habitat in favor of seeing some trees and a nice hiking path. Real insanity in the wild is actually pretty hard to safely observe in the United States. You can find it in the ghettos and the “bad parts of town” in bigger cities, but it isn’t safe to go there. You could go to mental health facilities too, but even in those places, the insanity is moderated. La Fortuna is a place that has been overrun with two different types of insanity kept separate only by the language barrier. The white insanity has the flavor of ghettos or “bad parts of town” in the United States (hey, dude, want some drugs?) while the Tico (Costa Rican) insanity creates more of a shanty-town sort of feel (like they’d kill you for your money).

I know that as the days go by, I’ll have more insight into our experiences in La Fortuna. My thoughts aren’t terribly balanced right now because I’m so exhausted from the psychic vampirism going on up there. There are some seriously wounded expatriates in La Fortuna who are passionate about their drugs; their alcohol; their money; their personal childhood wounds. They talk endlessly about how they are not controlled by their addictions. There are many of them and they don’t even know about each other. All of them had colorful childhood experiences. And all of them are pissed about it.

The volcano stopped erupting two years ago according to one drunk and wounded fellow named William. William told me that before the volcano stopped erupting it was “so cool” and that “every night it was just this gorgeous spectacle.” But the volcano is quiet now.

“Doesn’t that worry you?” I asked him. “Doesn’t that seem a bit ominous?”

“Yeah, well, maybe. I don’t know.” Then he took another shot of his hard liquor.

The volcano’s reticent silence presents a worthy metaphor for the place and the people inhabiting it. They are not bad people, but just entirely self-serving. I believe that they are trying to be good people, but they get confused in the execution of potentially helpful gestures. Superficially, any given gesture can appear helpful, but intention is really important.

William took us to an orphanage in La Fortuna and this was where we opted to spend the majority of our day there. The language barrier between William and Guadalupe, the woman in charge at the facility, certainly helped to keep William’s true intentions covert and Guadalupe’s intuitive sense that his intentions were askew similarly hidden.

William has never had children, at least he didn’t mention any during the marathon discussion that we had with him about himself. He had a 4 million dollar business in the United States and called on the Mafia for help to finance it, apparently (William is also a liar, so it’s impossible to know for sure). We reasoned that he was probably in Costa Rica rather than Mexico because it would be too easy for the Mafia to find him in Mexico. But he goes to the orphanage in La Fortuna and does…something (what?). After spending time with William at the karaoke bar on Friday night and discussing his problem with alcohol, religious views and latent anger with him, his motivation for going to the orphanage didn’t make sense to me. Something didn’t make sense about it. And usually, when stories don’t fit together logically, it’s because someone is lying about something. How sleazy the lie is, however, remains to be seen.

Perhaps Nathan uses the kids at the orphanage to transport drugs or something. Or perhaps he sits and reads them Little Golden Books and feeds them cookies on his days off.

I thought Alajuela was full of crazy, angry people, but La Fortuna trumped that place 1,000 times over. The craziness in Alajuela is rooted in poverty, but the craziness in La Fortuna, at least among the white folk, is aptly rooted in fortune and wealth and the desire for more. Choosing which of these two places to live in (William was trying to sell us on La Fortuna’s many virtues) is pretty easy, really because anger and craziness related to poverty is much easier for me to understand than feeling wronged because you blew 4 million dollars on drugs, fast cars, and women. In John’s and my youth we were fortunate to have been poor, I think, rather than rich because though I know we have crazy views and our own wounds and subsequent anger, it is not nearly as out of control as the craziness and anger borne out of having been rich and lost everything.

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