We rolled into La Fortuna, at the base of Arenal Volcano around 4:00 PM. John and I had both been stressed about the trip from Alajuela to La Fortuna. The map of Costa Rica that we had on our trip was as descript and helpful as the road signs leading from here to there. We were told that there were no road signs indicating which road was which and that there were few signs to tell you which direction to go either. Both of us had been curious and a bit anxious about how we would find our way to La Fortuna without a map or road signs.
Costa Ricans themselves don’t know the names of streets (many of the streets don’t have names at all) or how to get from one place to another unless they’re taxi drivers or they work doing some other type of transportation. Everything is relative to everything else. The grocery store’s location is identified by its proximity to some other, more “important” business. “Importance” however, is rated according to local standards which makes it difficult for foreigners to find their way around and also makes it difficult for locals to find their way out of the place where they live and grew up. Driving between Alajuela and La Fortuna was made even more challenging by the fact that the maps on John’s phone didn’t line up exactly with our true location. According to the little blue arrow that was supposed to indicate our location, we were not driving on any road at all. It was like the person who drew up the map just approximated where the road went in a sort of “as the crow flies” fashion.
Every Costa Rica map is equally non-descript. A person must feel their way from here to there and asking directions doesn’t help. People only know where they’re located in relation to other things, which is only helpful on a local level. But we did find our way from Alajuela to La Fortuna using the non-descript map of Costa Rica, intuition, and the GPS on John’s phone. The GPS was the most helpful, if not essential, especially since many communities along the route actually put up directional signs (usually the only directional signs) leading the wrong direction so that people would end up in their hokey little towns to buy bananas or socks or whatever tourists might need on their trip to Arenal Volcano National Park.
At the end of our drive, we crossed a long and seemingly treacherous suspension bridge and John and I concurred that it would be nice to get to our apartment vacation rental and “chill” for a couple of hours before bed. We called our contact for the vacation rental and told him we would be there soon.
I can be a real wet blanket if I get tired, hungry, or cold, but generally as long as my basic needs are met I’m willing to try almost anything. On this particular night, I was both tired and hungry when we arrived. The fellow who was taking care of our accomodations, however, had us come along with him to the hardware store to get a key cut for the apartment. Then he took us to meet some of his buddies at a restaurant called Just Good Food. John rebelled somewhat because, as vegans, he thought we’d fare better at The Flying Tomato vegetarian restaurant (which was horrible, by the way).
We are vegans, for the most part, who sometimes eat chicken, so finding restaurants in Costa Rica to accommodate our needs is challenging. But the guy who was managing our lodging had us sit down and watch him and his buddies drink some alcohol for over an hour nonetheless. We were able to eat some chips and guacamole and salsa so we weren’t starving anymore.
Then, we were just tired.
Our guide had suggested we look at living up in La Fortuna because it had some “cheap property” for rent. He talked about nice apartments for $90-$125. After dinner, he and his codependent girlfriend left us at the MegaSuper to get some supplies. The prospect of insanely cheap rental properties made us curious and so after a detour into the grocery store, we went back to the apartment and he came over to chat with us about the rental possibilities for the remaining two months of our stay.
Our conversation with him took many twists and turns. He talked for the most part about himself and why living in La Fortuna was the best. He shared with us tales of his childhood in the Congo living with fanatical missionary parents. Every now and then, he would get up and pour himself another shot of rum. And four times he made fun of himself and his drinking problem until, finally, I couldn’t help it.
“It seems like maybe you have a drinking problem. It keeps coming up in conversation.” I said.
But this man was a savvy alcoholic. He veered smoothly onto issues regarding spiritualism and religious beliefs, his difficult childhood and time spent living in the boondocks as a hermit on the side of the volcano. We discussed thoughts on God and atheism and how he moderates some online group that discusses God’s existence or non-existence. At the end of his long, drawn-out excuse for drinking he said, “And the only reason I’m bringing this up is because it’s obviously important to you guys.” What he meant was that he was talking about religion and spirituality because we had a problem and he was trying to help us.
Then, it was 9:30 PM. “So, it’s time for karaoke if you guys would like to go.”
This was how we ended up at a Costa Rican karaoke bar that Friday night. For the most part, it was mind-numbingly boring. We sat through two hours of sappy Ranchero music interspersed with our property manager’s passionate tributes to Bon Jovi. At the very end, Lydian sang “Holiday” by Green Day, which went over quite well (she does an excellent job working the crowd) and John tried to sing “Vertigo” by U2 but had lost his voice.
As we got up to leave (finally) a drunk kid came up and put his arm around Lydian. Though I could tell when it happened that she was icked out by it, she didn’t poke his eye out or rip one of his testicles off his body. We discussed the subtleties of the situation in depth later and when the appropriate time would be to go ahead and poke out an eye or do some ripping, but I was pleased with how she dealt with the drunk lad and his clumsy attempts at wooing.
Then, we got in a very small car with a very large man and road back to our apartment where I decided that “It’s My Life” (Bon Jovi) and having seen and experienced the excitement of an authentic Tico karaoke bar, I don’t ever have to go to another one again for the rest of all eternity.
Click here to read Lydian’s experience at the Costa Rican Karaoke Bar.