Kyle the painting contractor
Saturday, February 23 2019
location: Casa Trogon, Agua Vista Lodging, Montezuma, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Generally here at the casita it's been possible to live semi-outdoors without relying on screens (the kind not designed for being looked at), though this morning there were actually a few mosquitoes bothering me. And then the big coatimundi troop came through.
Wanda the Bat didn't come back before the start of the day, but there were a bunch of tiny disembodied insect parts floating on the surface of the pool, suggesting perhaps one or more bats had defecated into it overnight.
This afternoon's one planned activity was a trek to the largest of the Montezuma River's waterfalls, which Gretchen had only become aware of recently (even though she'd walked near it a fair number of times). First, though, Gretchen had to drive out to meet up with Andy (her Spanish teacher) on the main road to return a notebook of his that had ended up in her things. Andy had been in Cobano to get an oil change for his motorbike, which had cost about $8.
As Gretchen and I hiked the special Agua Vista trail down to the bottom of the Montezuma River gorge, we came across "Miguel," (that's probably not his name), the guy who maintains our plunge pool. One of his other jobs is apparently to maintain that trail, and this involves a lot of raking.
The bottom of the gorge looks to me like a set for a alien planet scene in the original Star Trek. There is something about the roundness of the boulders that has you suspecting they might be made from styrofoam.
We found our way to the main trail (which is south of the river at various elevations in the gorge) and took it downhill (that is, east), past that swimming hole Gretchen had taken me to on the 13th. Just beyond there along the trail, the organization operating and maintaining the trail has stationed an employee to collect tolls from hikers (unless they happen not to have brought money). He apparently doesn't take tolls from tikos and others he knows, and at this point Gretchen is an honorary tika, so all he had for us was pleasant smalltalk in Spanish. He told me his nombre, but I forgot what it was.
After descending several steep runs of steps, we were again at the bottom of the gorge with a view, a little to the west, of a large pool at the base of a high waterfall, and there were clearly people recreating in it. I don't know how Gretchen could've missed it, but I suppose at this point in her walk she was getting close to her destination and she didn't have time to dawdle.
Getting to that natural waterpark required walking across rough ground and along narrow ledges, and people had made things easier by placing cables and knotted ropes in locations where a handhold was helpful. And then there we were, on a rocky "beach" in front of a large natural pool below a waterfall that has drop that might be as much as 100 feet. There were a good 20 or more people there when we arrived, the majority of them gringos, all spread out on the "beach" looking at the falls like characters in a Seurat painting. Gretchen immediately dove in and swam to the falls, where she went "backstage" behind the falling water. I'm more timid about all things watery, and picked my way to my own private little pool, where I parked myself for most of the time we were at the falls. I was soon surrounded by a fishes of various sizes, all nipping bits of dead skin from my feet.
The main drama at the falls was the jumping and diving from the rocks on either side of the falling water. Some of the ticos would climb 20 or 30 feet above the water and do dramatic dives into the pool, hitting the water not terribly far from the jagged rocks defining the pool's edge. The gringos were more timid, and there was a slow queue of indecisive young bikini-clad gringas at one of easier dive spots (where the leap was maybe 10 or 15 feet). Gretchen (who was twice their average age) climbed up on that rock, immediately sussed out the situation, and leapt, giving me a little vicarious pride despite the fact that I was the most chicken-shit person there.
Meanwhile, a side drama played out where this one white dog with a back spot at the base of her tail kept retrieving sticks thrown by her human, a dark-brown tika who had the old-soul affect (and long straight hair) of a long-suffering Native American. He was the guy who ended up doing the most spectacular swan dive, though there was also a little nine or ten year old kid who did some incredible death-defying leaps. That dog wanted to do pretty much everything her human did, though she would only make the obviously safe leaps into the pool.
The one tika, who had the affect and charisma of someone who owned the place, had a thing where he climbed up the slippery rocks to the top of the falls and then somehow turned the falls off, perhaps by blocking the flow temporarily with a strategically-placed rock. I heard the falls go silent and turned to Gretchen to say, "he's turned off the falls!" But you can only interrupt a river for so long.
At some point I noticed someone had brought a very tiny puppy to the falls, so of course Gretchen wanted to go meet the puppy. And it turned out the puppy's father (a street dog resembling a dingo) was there too.
A less appealing baby was one of the human variety, whose gringo father undiapered her right there in the water not too far from us, making me wonder whether we were upstream or downstream from her nasty little baby ass.
Gretchen had brought snacks in the form of plaintain chips and corn chips. As we were eating these, an old tiko in a snorkel popped up nearby and tried to convince us (in English) to feed the fish, something Gretchen refused to do. But when one of the corn chips slipped out of my hand and into the water, it was as if I'd chummed shark-infested waters.
We knew walking back up to Agua Vista from the falls would be long hard slog, but it turned out the longest, hardest leg of it was actually the Agua Vista trail, which we'd walked up once before. We took a dip in the river before that final push, and the whole thing wasn't too bad. This had Gretchen wondering if we were somehow in unusually good shape for our age. In terms of vertical distance, the climb up from the base of the falls to Agua Vista is about the same as the climb to our house from the bottom of Dug Hill Road (450 feet or so).
There wasn't much wildlife on display at our casita this afternoon, though at some point I heard an unusual rustling sound in the leaves at the bottom of the jungle gulch just north of the casita, and when I went to look, I saw at least one white-tailed deer down there. The deer in Costa Rica are smaller than they are in North America so as to get through the underbrush more easily. They're also much more rare for whatever reason, partly (perhaps) because down here they actually have real predators (such as jaguars).
I became sleepy after drinking an Imperial, and napped until the shadows started getting long. And not too long after that it was time for our last restaurant meal in Montezuma, which would be happening at Sano Banano.
On our walk through the center of Montezuma after dropping off our recycling, we heard a voice call out from a business associated with travel. It was Andy, Gretchen's Spanish teacher, who just happened to be in town. So she told him we'd be at Sano Banano and he should come by to drink a beer with us.
We sat at our usual table in the open-air back of Sano Banano. Tonight I stuck with a fancy microbrew from La Selva Cerveza Artesanal, drinking the Belgian-style-ale called Rubia. When Andy came, he drank their Naranja, which seems to be his go-to beer at Sano Banano. For food, Gretchen got the casado (which is a known winner) and a huge salad. I got the patacones plate, though not the sandwiches made of patacones (this ended up being a bit of a disappointment, as there weren't enough of the sides that came with the patacones).
After Andy arrived, we talked initially about birds, which, he admitted, he normally doesn't get much chance to talk about because none of the people around him are particularly interested. But he knew that I am. Later, he told us all about a Jamaican Caribbean family that sort of became his second family after he set out on his own, away from his dysfunctional biological family.
At some point this 40-something gringo named Kyle wandered through, and Andy gave him an enthusiastic hello. Andy had been Kyle's on-again-off-again Spanish teacher, though they also knew each other through Andy's girlfriend Rachæl via the school outside of Cobano. Kyle pulled up a chair and joined us, ordering a glass of red wine. Kyle's story was that he runs a painting contracting firm back in Kansas, but had come to Costa Rica with his wife and kids some years ago and sort of settled here on the Nicoya Peninsula, partly because his wife became an administrator of that school outside Cobano. But because Kyle couldn't find a way to earn money here in Costa Rica, he'd been forced to continue running the painting contracting firm from afar. But because that sort of business depends on face-to-face meetings, he has to fly back to Kansas every few weeks, mostly to close new contracts. He gave his employees all stakes in the business and are, Kyle said, working much more effectively now than they ever did when they were being paid hourly. Now Kyle is divorced, though the remnants of his family are all still in Costa Rica and they love it here. He'd like to find a way not to have to keep flying back to Kansas, but people apparently don't like to sign contracts over Google Hangouts, as the contract-signing business usually involves the consumption of intoxicating beverages. This led to me telling Kyle my experience with Google-Hangouts-based happy hour and how it has many more advantages than disadvantages. I also said that if anyone was looking to start a business in the Nicoya Peninsula, I couldn't think of a better one than fixing broken cars, as this terrain is unusually hard on them.
One amusing side effect of Kyle's having to return frequently to the United States is that all his Costa Rican friends (particularly the gringos) have him smuggle in necessities that are impossible or expensive to obtain in Costa Rica (similar to that iPhone we smuggled in for Chris' daughter). This is fine so long as the things being smuggled are small electronics. But one time he made the mistake of agreeing to bring in some "brakes" for an SUV. The brakes ended up being a package weighing over 40 pounds and taking up the bulk of of his free checked luggage.
This tree had these large (thimble-sized) knobs on its bark, seemingly to protect the bark against some bark-eating creature that cannot reach up higher than ten feet above the ground, where these knobs stop. The knobs break off fairly easily. Click to enlarge.
The biggest of the Montezuma River waterfalls. Locals could climb to the top from the bottom (and even temporarily turn off the falls by implementing some sort of temporary dam). Click to enlarge.
It's just like a Seurat painting at the waterfalls' beach. Click to enlarge.
A species of palm with lethally-sharp clusters of spikes. Monkeys and squirrels strongly discouraged! Click to enlarge.
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