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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rough Road to a New Year's Bash

Dennis & Gerardo

We’ve had a great start to the New Year, beginning with a festive New Year’s Eve party at the home of our friends, Dennis & Gerardo of Pure Life Development real estate. In the two years we’ve been here, they have been our go-to guys in finding great places to live in Atenas. They are building an “eco-development” up the mountain from our first apartment in Alto del Monte in an mountaintop area called Estanquillos and they are now living in one of the first homes they’ve built there, a magnificent hilltop villa with an indoor pool, out-of-this-world furnishings and fantastic panoramic views of the Central Valley and the surrounding mountains.

When Gerardo invited us to bring in the New Year with them, we were delighted. We so enjoy their sense of humor, zest for life and big smiles that we knew we’d have a great time. And indeed we did, AFTER we managed to get there!

In English, the directions to their house sounded easy enough: “Take the road to Estanquillos. Go up till you come to a pulperia on the left.  At the next curve, turn right and go down the hill...Cross the bridge and then up the hill.  Our entryway is on the left hand side (bright Orange)!”  But the Spanish directions for the taxi driver were something else again: “200 metros norte del recibador de cafe, Calle Iris....Entrada naranja....” Unfortunately, they didn’t mean much to our cab driver, who was unfamiliar with Estanquillos. So after some hits and misses, we found the  bridge and started uphill as instructed, only to encounter a road that embodied every dire description of Costa Rican streets you ever read. Rocks, dirt, gullies, washouts, big humps. And remember, it was after dark. Oh, and of course, there were no streetlights.

As we slowly eased up the steep slope, our taxi high-centered with a wham. “Oh no, señor!” I said to our driver. “Este es no correcto!” This can’t be right! He understood and began slowly backing down the rough roadway. I had already tried Dennis’ cell phone but there was no signal this far out. In desperation, we returned to the pulperia, a small grocery, to ask for directions.
Dennis & his mom, left; new friends Peggy & Rick, right

With the driver and Layne waiting in the car, I tried calling on the store’s landline but Dennis’ cell phone still didn’t respond. Then I described Dennis and Gerardo to the proprietor. Yes, she told me, pointing up the mountain to a lighted house at the top. That’s where those two gentlemen live and yes, that’s the right road. Unsure that I understood correctly, I sent our taxi driver in to discuss the situation with the grocers. Layne and I watched anxiously from the car as the animated conversation carried on. Finally, our driver returned and despite our protests that it would wreck his car, in true Tico style he headed back up the road, determined to transport his passengers to their destination.

Which he did, bless his heart, gunning his engine and banging his oil pan in order to make it up and over the rough spots. He totally earned the big tip I gave him. Finally, we arrived and hiked up the last steep slope of driveway to a festive atmosphere of music, laughter, salsa dancing, great food and new friends to boot. At midnight, we opened champagne then watched firework displays all across the nighttime vista. Thanks, Dennis and Gerardo, but maybe we’ll wait until that road is paved before we come for another visit!

Sadie and Marcial
Still, it was satisfying that my Spanish is improving enough to converse as I managed to do that night. But Layne and I have begun a new system for learning Spanish --  “language dinners” with our Tico friends Marcial and Sadie. Sadie wants to learn English so it seems a good fit for us to get together and speak our different languages over a good meal. Layne and I hosted our first evening “class” last Thursday and it was a grand success. Marcial served as our “teacher” due to his fluency in English gained from teaching physical education at an English-language school for some eight years. Over guacamole and big bowls of chili, we alternated English and Spanish, with Marcial correcting us and offering grammar rules here and there. Sadie made homemade tortillas in a matter of minutes that were so much better than the packaged kind. And Marcial, who plans to compete in the big Chili Cookoff next month, was impressed with my chili recipe, which I had adapted to incorporate his wonderful Italian Sausage as the meat. We plan to repeat these dinners every two weeks or so and “poco a poco,” little by little, I know our Spanish will improve even as we have a lot of fun learning it. 

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