Thursday, June 20, 2013

And the alarm went off … and off … and off … by Marilyn

The folks at the B&B were incredibly warm and sweet. When they heard we hadn’t yet rented a car for our drive up to Leaves & Lizards, Carol, the wife, offered to rent us their Toyota SUV. The rental on it was a real deal compared to rental places I’d checked out and it seemed like a win-win – Carol and Barnabi would get some extra colones and we’d have a nice, older SUV that didn’t look like a rental car. I really wanted to avoid looking like a tourista, which is kind of imposible considering the fact that Paul and I are about 6 to 8 inches taller than the average Tico, extremely WHITE and our Spanish at this point is a pretty good rendition of “Donde un cervesa y donde esta el bagno?” which is probably fairly importante though not nearly complete enough to get us very far.
So a deal was struck and Barnabi began explaining the ins and outs of the Toyota. He pointed to a red button on the driver’s side door. “Sometimes,” he said, making it sound like an extremely rare occurrence, “the alarm will start to go off for no reason. When that happens, just push this red button – once – and it will stop.”
“You’re sure about that,” Paul prodded.
“Si, si. Just push the red button,” here he flicked it nonchalantly as if to prove how simple it was to control, “and no more alarm!”
“Well, okay … .” I could tell Paul was a bit concerned, but Barnabi was so darn nice. And it seemed like a simple solution to something that should hardly be considered an issue.
Barnabi left for work shortly thereafter and we loaded up the car. The alarm went off. Paul pushed the button. The alarm continued. Paul pushed another button – one on the automatic door lock – and the alarm stopped.
We got in the car and Paul started it up. The alarm went off. This time Paul pushed the red button. The alarm stopped. Hmmmm … two times in as many minutes. Coincidence?
We followed Carol’s directions to the PanAmerican Highway and ended up driving into the airport instead. Somehow we turned ourselves around and got on the right road, going in the right direction, although getting lost three minutes into our journey was as unpropitious as the alarm going off twice.
“Should we get gas before we get out in the country?” I asked.
“Nah,” Paul said. “We have a half a tank.”
I have run out of gas enough times in my life that “half a tank” to me sounds like “we should be carrying a five-gallon gas can for when we are hitch-hiking to a gas station.” But I remained silent. Instead I became an eagle-eyed lookout for anything vaguely resembling a gas station. Barnabi had assured us that there were “many, many” gas stations on the way to La Fortuna.
What I discovered instead was that there were many, many structures that looked like gas stations on the 75 km to La Fortuna. As Paul and I chatted pleasantly about this and that and marveled at the abundant green all around us (we do live in Arizona, after all), I asked with greater and greater frequency “so, how’s that gas gauge lookin’?”
“We’re fine, we’re fine,” said Paul.
“Okay.” I tried to shut up. Paul caught me glancing furtively in the direction of the gauge. We stopped for lunch in San Ramon after driving around the town a bit. I did not see one actual gas station despite seeing several faux gas stations that turned out to be shoe stores or whatever.
We parked the car in front of a beautiful church across from a lovely square in downtown San Ramon. The alarm went off. Paul hit the red button. It stopped. Phew! He turned the car off and pulled the key out of the ignition. The alarm went off. He hit the red button. Nada. He turned the car back on. By this time the gentle beep had turned into the aa-oo-gah of a London police car. Once the ignition was on, he hit the red button again. This time the alarm stopped. We sat in the car a few minutes. Gingerly, he turned the car off again. We carefully opened the doors and slipped out so the alarm wouldn’t notice. We tiptoed through the park to a café where we had lunch. We paid in colones. We think we paid way too much. We figured it came to about $18 in dollars which didn’t sound like what everything we’d read about getting inexpensive lunches in local cafes.
After visiting the beautiful church, which was a surprise because it was wide opened, unlike nearly every church we’re familiar with in our neck of the woods, we snuck back to the car. Paul started it. Warning beep. He hit the red button and it stopped. He was getting pretty good at this “rare occurrence.”
We drove further and further into the countryside. In nearly every village there were several auto repair shops but not one gas station. But again, many faux gas stations. I began to wonder: had most of the buildings in Costa Rica begun their existence as gas stations? And then, without discussing it with one another, all at the same time they decided to become something else? And there were really and truly no more gas stations in all of Costa Rica except for the one we’d passed on our way out of Alejeula? So so long ago? Paul assured me we’d be fine until we got to La Fortuna.
On the map that Leaves & Lizards provides, there is a gas station marked on the road going out of town. I didn’t see that until after Paul stopped at the local Alamo car rental place and asked. They pointed to a gas station even closer. I unclenched everything that I’d been clenching for the past two hours. It felt good to be so clenchless.
In Costa Rica, as if it were the 1950s in the U.S. or present-day New Jersey (check on this) there are attendants who not only fill your tank, but wash your windows and your headlights and are generally many and pleasant. We were on a main stretch of noisy and busy road, so at first it was hard to hear the tell-tale beep. “Isn’t that our beep?” I asked Paul.
“No, that’s not our car,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“No, it’s out there somewhere.”
I saw the guy getting gas in the bay across from us staring at us. Soon all the many and pleasant attendants were swarming our car. The aa-oo-gah had started it earnest.
“It is us!!!” I shouted. “Hit the red button!!”
Paul whacked the button but of course it wouldn’t work because he’d turned the engine off which is what you’re supposed to do when you’re getting gas. He quickly tried to start the car and it wouldn’t start. By this time, the aa-oo-gah had morphed into an even more horrendous and nerve-wracking squeal, like something was dying and something else was eating it. Or something.
Paul jumped out of the car and the many and pleasant attendants pushed their way in, pushing every button they could get their hands on. The caterwauling alarm by now was surely disturbing every sleeping baby in La Fortuna and up into Nicaragua.
I sat helplessly in the front seat, praying to all those saints I’d just made acquaintance of back in the beautiful San Ramon church. Paul was beginning to get hysterical as the attendants were threatening to pull out wires and the like. They had the hood up. “Where’s the number for the B&B?” he shouted. I handed him the card. “Does anyone have a cell phone?”
One of the attendants called the B&B and Paul tried to explain through the din what was going on. Not that much explanation was needed. Whoever was on the other line gave him the helpful suggestion to push the red button. By this time, the attendants had disconnected the battery, and the hellish racket went silent.
After what seemed like many hours (but was probably only about six minutes) of reconnecting the battery, alarm going off, starting the car, pushing the red button, rinse and repeat, something finally worked and silence again reigned in La Fortuna. We muchas graciased the many and pleasant attendents up and down and bailed out of town. And it only cost us 42000 colones to fill the car ($81-ish).
We came to a sweet little café on the side of the road. “I need ice cream,” I announced. Paul didn’t need any more prompting than that. He pulled into the parking space in front of the café and turned the car off. We waited. Blessed silence. We ordered milkshakes, chatted with the wonderful Israeli proprietress, admired and photographed her wonderful murals and enjoyed our shakes on a patio overlooking – what else – abundant green.
Pulling out of the lot, the alarm dared a tentative beep. Paul flicked the red button and it shut right up. Maybe it had gotten all this blaring out of its system.
We finally made it to Leaves & Lizards and gratefully rounded the driveway in front of the reception building. Turned off car. Alarm beeped. Turned car back on. Pushed red button. Alarm stopped. This was getting really, really tiresome.
Debbie the owner, with her husband Steve, of this amazing eco-resort, led us up a steep hill to our cabin. We’d told her about the alarm problem so she wasn’t surprised when it beeped again as we got out. “God, I hope it doesn’t start beeping in the middle of the night,” Paul said. We surveyed the exquisite, lush tropical and peaceful surroundings. If that happened, it would really, really stink. “Maybe I should borrow a [name of wrench] so I can disconnect the battery.”
“Maybe,” I said, “that will be the only way we can get a good night’s sleep.”
Debbie had told us that we were invited to a party at the finca down the road. She was going to go with us because her husband was wrapping up a construction project.
The frustration of the car alarm took away some of the joy of being in this absolute paradise. What would we do if the alarm went off in the middle of the night? Paul joked that he’d have to sleep in the car, but I was starting to think that was not such a bad idea.
At the finca, the alarm went off two more times as soon as we arrived. I was glad when the music started because at least if the alarm sounded then, it would be less noticeable. But we were okay.
When we got back to our cabin several hours later, sure enough, the alarm went off as soon as we got out of the car. Paul was getting really expert at jumping back in, starting the engine and hitting that @#$% red button. He shut the door again. Very very gently. I held my breath. We backed up the walk to our cabin. Silence.

It has been exactly 24 hours since we arrived. We haven’t gone near the car for fear of setting off an alarm storm again. All the other guests drove down the hill to the lodge’s restaurant this morning in what was a torrential downpour. Not Paul and Marilyn. We walked. Happy for the soft sound of rain hitting our umbrellas. 

En Costa Rica by Paul

Our Frontier plane lifted off at 6 pm for Denver on the way to Costa Rica. That’s right. Phoenix north to Denver to CR. A two-hour layover later we headed south and arrived in Costa Rica at 5 AM Tuesday morning after a #$%& night’s sleep.
Customs was fast and easy, no body cavity searches, no grimy hombres with elaborate mustachios and bandeleros across their chests. I have had my passport for 9 years, and here in Costa Rico, it finally got the rubber stamp.
Outside as warned in the many travel guides we studied, a swarm of hungry looking men wanted to help us carry our bags or take us to a taxi. We avoided cars with no hubcaps that looked they had been painted with a roller and got into a bright orange, official aeroporto taxi.
Getting to the Melrost B & B was not the problem I thought it might be in a city that has neither street names nor numbers. Our driver asked us where the Melrost was. We told him it was in Costa Rica. He got on his walkie talkie and after some back and forth with the dispatcher seemed to know where he was going.
He led us through bustling but crumbling neighborhoods, obviously repaired, patched and repatched, painted and repainted many times since the 1950’s when I assume these structures were built. Block walls are topped with barbed wire, and windows and parking areas everywhere are protected with iron bars. We emerged into a quiet cozy neighborhood whose narrow streets are bordered in tropical vegetation. Here was our B & B.

We were shown to our room and crashed. That first night a torrential rain storm pounded on the roof and a crack of lightening knocked out the lights. We didn’t care. We had bed to sleep in instead of an airplane seat.