I am writing from Central America, Costa Rica to be exact, Manuel Antonio Park to be exacter. I forgot my gold stars, too bad because there were so many opportunities to reward airport workers, but I didn't think the concept would translate. I don't know if Costa Ricans get gold stars as kids, in school.
Without the stars, I am still trying to be friendly, even to the car rental guys who, after our long flight and long wait at customs yesterday, had clearly lied about having cars with automatic transmissions, then added insult to injury by offering sweetly to give us a 4-wheel-drive for no extra charge. Turns out those are all they really have to traverse these often unpaved mountain roads. When they charged us extra, then, for necessary insurance, I smiled sweetly.
"Really, is there nothing more you can do to make up for the fact that I now have to drive stick-shift, which I haven't done in years?!"
The man behind the counter smiled just as sweetly back. "You see," he said, "we have a monopoly here...so there is nothing I can do..."
I threw my head back and laughed. Awesome. I do love honesty. It would have been a perfect gold star moment. I continued to banter, then, making fun of everything the man said with the response, "Well, you do have a monopoly..." My joking managed to encourage him to bypass the invisible dictator and offer to waive the $5 extra driver charge, which we weren't sure we needed since my husband has never driven stick and was unlikely to learn in this small, mountainous country, especially with me as the teacher.
Turns out, the nearly four-hour drive to our house was not a nightmare as I began to fear as the rental guy walked me around the car showing existing bumps and scrapes and smilingly telling me, Miss Gringa, about the random police blockades, the flashing lights to warn about dangers such as animals in the middle of the road, and the looooong wait should anything actually happen to our car and we should attempt to get help.
Once out of the rental lot, though, imagined fears put aside out of necessity, it was amazing, even despite my burning rubber as I remembered, with some difficulty, the delicate balance of clutch and brake and gas. We saw along our path a rooster, a rainbow, herds of skinny cows and a man sleeping in the dirt right off the road waiting, interminably I guess, for a bus. There were tons of open-air bars promising yummy fruity drinks and stands selling local fruits and veggies. I was ready after a half an hour to give up Brooklyn life for this, for something simpler.
We finally got to the house, an amazing, open-to-the-ocean five floor extravaganza, and the drive seemed even more worth it, so, too, my mother-in-law's months of nervous e-mails as she prepared us and herself for her 70th birthday extravaganza. The place didn't just meet, it exceeded expectations. My father in law was sad to hear I'd forgotten my stars.
"This house," he said, "deserves a gold star."
Definitely. Especially today, in the morning light. I stared behind my mother-in-law at something in the tree and later recognized it as two sloths, embracing. Monkeys danced over our heads, over the little pool, putting on a show we joked came as part of the deluxe package. Lizards live in our bathrooms and, as we sat by the pool, hummingbirds flew about, along with butterflies of various sizes and colors and a red-tailed dragonfly, who circled over me for hours and then, finally, sat on a large leaf right by my head, so close I could see its tail pulsating. Amazing. I'm sold. I am certainly meant to have come here, to this fabulous place. I may never leave, despite the spotty Internet service. My daily blog is harder, but I will try, I will really try.