Wednesday, December 1, 2010


In English, "Bonus!". It's Christmas time and Costa Rican workers are frothing at the mouth in anticipation of their annual, government mandated Christmas bonus - something about which I have mixed feelings. The amount is one-twelfth of what the employee has earned between Dec. 1, 2009, and Nov. 30, 2010. For most this represents a month's pay.

I'm in favor of bonuses. But they should be based on performance and not be of the outrageously huge type that corporate CEO's give themselves in the U.S. If you're doing a great job and are going above and beyond the call of duty, you deserve to be rewarded for it. But why should someone be rewarded simply for doing their job? Or worse yet, be rewarded for being an underperforming dolt ticking away the calendar days until his/her pension kicks in and they can finally start living life when most of it has already passed them by?

I had a great primer for life in Costa Rica working as a consultant for the Capital Improvement Program Manager at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). The paralyzing beaurocratic culture I had to deal with there on a daily basis was a real eye-opener. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. The lengths at which people went to avoid responsibility to preserve their job and pension were monumental. I would often think to myself, "If they could only channel all of that energy into being productive, they wouldn't even need me here!"

Costa Rica, especially at the municipal government level, is exactly like the CTA: Avoid responsibility in order to preserve your livlihood. Don't make any tough decisions that might rock the boat or interfere with your lunch hour. It's as frustrating for Costa Rican nationals as it is for foreigners like me to deal with these people. But, unlike me, Costa Ricans have an inherent ability to shrug it off - though, out of necessity, I have made great strides toward following in their footsteps. "Teach me, Obi-'Juan'" (see "The 20 Tico Rules of Pura Vida")

So the problem with aguinaldo - though clearly a potent vitamin injection for the national economy at the end of the year - is that it rewards those who don't deserve, as well as those who do. It's a slap in the face to those doing a great job and who truly deserve the extra appreciation for doing so. It's demeaning to the hard worker who wants to advance and be recognized for doing good work instead of being heaped in with the dunces.

But I digress... What the hell am I thinking!? I mean, in the end, who really cares? That's just the way it is. And it's the season of giving, right? So why shouldn't everyone from La Presidenta to my neighbor's housekeeper benefit from a stocking stuffer (excluding contractual workers, who are exempt)? ¡Felíz Navidad! (See? I'm learning!)

¡Pura vida!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In English, "". The 4 PM deadline Costa Rica gave Nicaragua to remove it's troops stationed on Isla Calero in the Rio San Juan appears to have come and gone. And there's some great stuff flying around the web on social apps and through text messages on cell phones here in Costa Rica. My current favorite:

"Envia tu opinion: A quien crees que pertenece el Rio San Juan, si a Costa Rica o Nicaragua, a y queda participando en la rifa de 2 rotweiller y 2 nicas para a jugar. Recuerde entre mas correos envies, mas oportunidades tendras de ganar!"

Translates to: "Send your opinion: Who do you think owns the Rio San Juan - if it's Costa Rica or Nicaragua - to and participate (sic) in the raffle of 2 Rotweiller's and 2 Nicas for them to play with. Remember, the more mail you send, the better your chances of winning!"

WOW! I had no idea Tico's even knew what sarcasm was! ¡Pura vida!

The mention of the Rotweiller's vs. Nicas, however, is a tasteless reference to a recent news story about an attack by a couple of Rotweiller's on a couple of Nicaraguan's. A bit brutal for me.

Here's some Costa Rican government propaganda that does a pretty decent job at explaining the incursion and why it wants Nicaragua to pull back.

I find it interesting, however, that Isla Calero is described as a valuable, protected natural area having a rich diversity of unique flora and fauna. Before the Nicaraguan incursion, it was worthless piece of shit in the middle of fucking nowhere leased by the government to a cattle rancher.

I found this image particularly humorous. It depicts a map of Central America with the country of Nicaragua conspicuously missing. It has been replaced by the "Sea of Happiness".

In the end, it was really Google Maps who caused all of this (click here). It certainly would not have happened with Bing!

Stay tuned for what tomorrow brings!! Can't wait!!

¡Pura vida!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

La Goma

In English, "The Hangover". So it's the day after mid-term elections in the US and I kinda feel a little tired, spent, and hung-over. I’m not sure how or when, but somehow I got caught up in all of the campaigning from my laid-back and, seemingly, faraway life down here in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, in all of its insidiousness, it made its way to me.

Over the past couple of weeks, as many campaigns became increasingly nasty, I made some wall posts on my Facebook page - rants that made many people laugh while, at the same time, infuriated others, the latter of which labeled me a “US basher”. I suppose if I lived in the US and posted some of the same things, I would have simply been labeled “opinionated”, or a "jackass". But that’s the life of an expat: some people back home live vicariously through me, while others cannot for the life of them understand why I chose to leave the best country in the world to go live in a banana republic that most of them think is an island located in the Caribbean.

One of the things I like about the political system here is that Costa Rica is a direct democracy - presidential candidates are voted in by simple majority - no electoral college to negate the popular vote. Costa Rican presidential candidates don't have primaries and they aren't required to win in otherwise innocuous battlegrounds like Ohio and Iowa. It's less complicated, in a country that, for it's size and population, can make just about everything more complex than it needs to be (See rules 11. and 13., "The 20 Tico Rules of Pura Vida"). Be that as it may... I can't vote here.

I am a registered US Democrat (Well, I am from Chicago!) but I am a swing voter. I voted for Reagan twice – in my opinion, the greatest president of my lifetime – and have voted for other non-Democrats many times. So I don’t hold any party loyalty, really. I had to check a box, and I come from a long line of Daley Democrats, so I succumbed to peer pressure. Sue me. Wait! No! Don't!

After yesterday’s election, it is clear that the American majority have rebuked the Dems, President Obama and his policies. Good! The system works (though in a quirky, high school kinda way)! But my hangover makes me feel uneasy, uncertain, tense, excitable and anxious. The one thing I kept hearing voters from all sides saying was that they were tired of politicians pointing fingers at each other in stead of providing solutions. The solutions they talked about? Lower taxes, more jobs, less crime, reduced deficit, inexpensive health care, and an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And so it happened the other day that I found myself listening to The Disposable Heroe’s of Hiphoprisy’s Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury, released in 1992 – as it would turn out, the last year of George H. W. Bush’s (R) presidency. The group was an early 90’s hip-hop band and the song topics on the CD are about the US recession, bank bailouts, the first war in Iraq, terrorism, racism, the cost of living, the cost of healthcare, poor educational systems, power-hungry blowhard politicians, enormous oil company profits and the destruction of the environment at their hands.

Sound familiar?

It’s been 18 years! 18 years and Michael Franti’s song lyrics are still relevant! We’ve had a two-term Democratic President whose party gained control of Congress. We’ve had a two-term Republican President whose party gained control of Congress. And now we have a mid-term Democratic president whose party has lost control of The House of Representatives and narrowly clings to a majority in the Senate. Finger point all you want. “The more things change the more they stay the same”. Or maybe it’s, “Our ignorance of history makes us vilify our own time”.

That’s why I'm hung-over. May God bless America.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"The Least Worst is the Best"

Another evening of gagging and vomiting watching Florida campaign ads that point blame, provide no solutions and manipulate records and statistics willy-nilly to make trend-sucking dilettantes look like heroes. At least Costa Rican candidates come right out and say it: "El menos malo es el mas bueno" ("The least worst is the best"). Here's an ad by presidential candidate Luis Fishman that aired in January right before Costa Rica's presidential election, which was won by, Laura Chinchilla.

Here's the song's translation:

I'll vote for Luis
my baby will be born soon
The least worst is the best
that's why i'm voting for him
He's the best.
A realist, w/o illusions, I believe him
that's why in February
I'll give my sincere vote to Luis
I'll support the least worst
with flags and a banquet
I'll celebrate it honking*.
I'll follow him.
I'll vote for him.
He's the besssssssssssst!

“The least worst is the best. Fishman.”

[*In Costa Rica, soccer and election victories are celebrated with incessant car honking.]

I mean, if you're going to waste a sh*tload of money on political ads that say nothing, they should at least be entertaining.

¡Pura vida!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

La Bandera Roja

Or "The Red Flag", in English. I got to carry the red flag today! Always a sign of good luck and fortune. At least, that's what I think. Red flags usually conjure negative connotations. But in this case, it's just the opposite. You actually want a red flag. Here's the deal...

The road construction workers here have a pretty cool method for getting around having to communicate with walkie-talkies when they shut down a one lane segment of 2-lane road and, subsequently, have to funnel 2-way traffic through a single lane, with traffic in each direction taking its turn. When the traffic from one direction subsides or is cut off by a flagman, traffic that is stopped in the other direction is mobilized. Sounds easy enough.

But sometimes the segment being repaired straddles the top of a hill, or wraps around a curve winding up/down a hillside or mountain. This makes it impossible for the guys at each end of the segment that is closed to make a visual connection with one another. Walkie-talkies solve this problem allowing them to communicate over the hill or around the bend. But what do you do when you don't have radio communication and have to rely on your eyes?

THAT'S WHERE THE RED FLAG COMES IN!! A guy at each end of the segment stops traffic in one lane while repair work progresses in the other. A flagman at one end of the segment has a red flag. Once the segment is clear of traffic, the flagman with the flag waves traffic through (e.g. downhill) while traffic is stopped and waiting at the other end to come the opposite direction (e.g. uphill). After enough (downhill) vehicles have passed, the flagman stops oncoming traffic, but gives the flag to the driver of the last vehicle proceeding in that direction (e.g. downhill). When the driver of the last vehicle reaches the other end of the segment, he hands the red flag off to the other flagman, thus signalling that the lane is clear and ready to flow in the opposite direction (e.g. uphill). The process begins again in the other direction, with the last (uphill) vehicle handing off the flag to the flagman at the other end. This goes on until the segment is repaired - which is, like, usually, a really long time.

Freakin' ingenious! I always feel very important when I am the privileged driver mantled with the weighty responsibility of carrying the red flag to its destination, passing it into the hands of the flagman at the other end with the athletic grace of a Jamaican Olympic relay runner!

¡Pura vida!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Pikin Star

Disclaimer: Nothing that follows can be proven or substantiated. It should be considered rumor and heresay and nothing more. I mean, what are blogs for??

The latest rumors on the mysterious Pikin Star shrimp trawler fire in Bahia Hermosa on Tuesday are:

Alleged: One of the other two trawlers anchored off the beach (supposedly having a crew of Columbians) had a beef with the Pikin Star. The beef started, allegedly, when the Pekin Star's crew ignored the "Columbians" when they had run aground offshore some time in the near past. Supposedly, "Columbians never forget."

Alleged: All Columbians are hookers, drug dealers and murderers who never forget.

Confirmed:  The "Columbians" were mysteriously absent during the attempted rescue of the Pikin Star. They moved their boat farther away from the burning Star so as not to catch a spark. Another trawler tried to assist in dousing the conflagration, to no avail.

Alleged: Someone set fire to the Pekin Star - somehow, in broad daylight with a dog on board (and a shitload of shrimps in the shrimp hold!).

Confirmed: The entire crew of the Pikin Star was at a clandestine bar in Playa Hermosa drinking when the boat caught fire.

Confirmed: The incredibly pissed-off owner of the boat has a daughter here in P. Hermosa. She's granted anonymity here 'cause I know her.

Alleged: Some of the "Columbians" on the rival craft are living in P. Hermosa, at least part-time, when they're not with their real wives. Same goes for the crew of the Pekin Star. There are only a certain number of women to go around here. Not surprising something caught fire.

Confirmed: Not all the shrimp burned. One very foolish woman who bought a giant sack of diesel-soaked leftovers real fuckin' cheap, - even after being warned that they were contaminated - took them home, cooked 'em up and shared them with her sister. Apparently, she thought that if you cleaned them really well and boiled them with lime, you could de-contaminate them - NOT!

Upon gorging themselves (these were big-ass women with a big-ass bag-o-shrimps) they fell ill and were forced to visit a private clinic for treatment of upset stomach, nausea and diarhea. The shrimp were dumped outside the house next to Playa Hermosa School and are stinkin' up the joint. "¡Asquerosisimo!", stated visiting members of El Culto the other night during services at the public school, which also doubles as a private church.

Alleged: None of this is true.

Alleged: All of this is true.

¡Pura vida!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sports Bars?

I hail from the Great City of Chicago - "The City That Works". That's a catchy, double-barreled tag line that well represents my city. Chicagoan's are notorious for our work ethic - a "hard-nosed", "stick-too-it-ive", no nonsense, blue collar, "get the job done" (and well), mid-Western work ethic. Even our famous and numerous gangsters have had the same work ethic. Still do. Arguably, it is because of this work ethic that Chicago, a city born as a mid-19th century frontier outpost in a swamp on the shores of Lake Michigan, has become World Class. One might argue geography, but let's face it, it's people that make a city work. And Chicago works!

We work hard and we play hard. Which is what makes Chicago one of the best sports towns in North America. We take our sports and our teams seriously, and our sports fans are second to none. Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs, White Sox, Fire. Pick a team. If you're from Chi-town, you've got an opinion on them all. Today was Sunday, and I wanted to see the Bears/Seahawks game...

...So I walk inta 'dis Sports Bar dis afternoon ta try 'n' find da Bears game on TV. I mean, it says "Sports Bar" right dere on da sign. So I says ta myself, "Disa'd be a good place ta grab a beer an' watch da game. Who knows? Maybe dey got brats too!"

I gotta be careful here what I say, 'cause dis is Mayberry and I don' wan' any problems wit my neighbors tellin' me dat I'm not welcome in dere place a business. Anyway, here goes... 

So like I was sayin', I walk into dis joint and see a buncha TV's on da walls and none a dem got da Bears on 'em. So I says to da manager, "Hey, Sweetie, how 'bout puttin' da Bears game on one a da TV's ya got up dere? Oh, an' bring me a Old Style too when ya gotta chance." Well, dey don't got Old Style. Sumthin' wit a eagle on da label. Den she hands me a book dat da cable company gave her wit dates an' channels an' all kindsa crap in it, an' asks me what network da game is on. I'm like, "Hey, sweetie! Do I look like da cable guy here?"

20 friggin' minutes later, wit Cutler gettin' his ass sacked off by Seattle (I'm watchin' dis on da Internet on Sweetie's computer while she's huntin' for a signal for da remote in da kitchen, or somethin'. Cripes!), Sweetie's still askin' me who da Bears are an' can't even find da game on any of da TV's. So she gives up - and den tries to sell me a bucket a beers an' some chicken wings! Which is all dey got 'cause da kitchen blew up, or somethin', and dey can't cook pizza.

Dat's when I told Sweetie, "Thank you, but NO!", an' walked out da door to try an' find da game at anudder sports bar. Took me tree tries in two towns!!! Crap!! 

Dis ain't Chicago. Nuttin' works.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Sometimes I lie awake in bed at night and think about this stuff...

Entitlement: Why is it expected - yay, demanded - that I share what I have with you just because I'm a foreigner and I have it? Oh, wait... guess I just answered that one.

Klingons: When I asked you if you wanted a ride to Coco, I didn't mean you AND your entire extended family!

Theft: What's the point of stealing a lock and chain if the lock is secure and you don't have the key for it?

Twist-ties: I've watched many a gallant Tico caballero repair alambre (barbed wire) with the grace and methodology of a spider spinning its delicate web. But give one of these 'naco's a twist-tie and a bag of Bimbo bread, and it's as if they immediately become afflicted with palsy as a result of some sort of mild anurism that turns them into the bread's namesake. After repeated, contorted attempts at securing the bag, the twist tie inevitably ends up on the floor with the bag tied in a knot.

Whites: It never ceases to impress and amaze me how someone living in a pochote shack with dirt floors can get their hand-washed clothes so blindingly WHITE!!

Lids/Zip-locs: OK, so I get leaving the beans on the stove for a few days as long as they're heated up before going to bed at night and are covered. They get more delicious with each passing day and make a killer gallo pinto on their last. But what the hell is up with the inability to put a lid or plastic wrap on a container placed in the fridge, to screw on a cap or to zip a zip-loc?! Must all food odors be free to comingle in the sacred sepulcre of the ice box temple? Is it some sort of cult thing?

The Lost Generation: I've noticed that the kids of many parents who made money during the real estate boom (and subsequently blew it all on pick-up trucks, booze, shoes and hookers), and had a fleeting taste of what it was like to be "rich", still consider themselves above getting a job. [sic] Only poor people work. Well, look in the mirror, kid!

Dirt: Am I the only one who finds sweeping dirt a contradiction; the ultimate exercise in futility?

...and then I go to sleep. Buenas noches. Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Spanish translation: "Fruit-bearing". Typically used in Spanish to describe fruit trees. I've always had a green thumb. Well, not always... Most of what I learned about plants came from watching my mother and father transform the yards of vanilla spec-houses in vanilla white suburbia into world class, jaw dropping landscapes. No matter where we lived, the landscaping around our modest houses made the houses themselves look like a million bucks. It was, and is, a hobby of theirs that, apparently, is genetic.

A couple of years ago a large tree nearby our house snapped its taproot and came down, taking 3 more trees with it, nearly landing on the house and forcing us to cut down another tree upon which it came to rest. My garden under the shady, dry forest canopy became exposed to the blazing tropical sun, literally, overnight. So, taking into account one of my favorite John Wooden quotes ("Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.") I began to transform the now very sunny space into an orchard - sun loving "frutales"!

I planted what I had in pots that I grew from seeds first: a marañón (cashew tree) and an aguacate Haas (Hass avocado). I then transplanted a naranja valencia (Valencia orange) that was suffering in the shady canopy behind my brother-in-law's house next door (we live on the same 3.7 has./7.5 acres). I also transplanted a guanábana that a neighbor had given me that I had planted too close to the house in too much shade. Next was a limón mandarina (Mandarin lime) that my other brother-in-law had given me that was languishing in a plastic soft drink bottle bottom. That was five trees, not very big ones. But that's all it took... I became a "jungle planter crack head"!

In the coming months I cleared more trees, bought, - or was given - and planted banana, mamón chino (they say they don't grow in this part of Cost Rica - mine's thriving!), mamón criollo, níspero, aguacate criollo, manzana de agua (water apple), limón dulce (lemon), carambola (star fruit), guayaba, guayaba criollo, maracuyá (a vine), mandarina (tangerine), noni, Tommy manga and mango. (What North Americans call a mango up there is called a manga here. They're big, hybrid fruit. The wild trees with the smaller yellow fruit are called mangos. Both are delicious!)

My orchard has a couple of years to grow before bearing fruit (though the marañón will probably get fruit this year). It's back breaking work clearing and planting. Then, there's maintaining the orchard, keeping the undergrowth from becoming overgrowth. And last year I had to water them all nearly every day because we had no rain during the rainy season and they couldn't put down good roots. But it's also one of the most personally satisfying and, yes, relaxing things I have done and continue to do. Walking amongst my fruit trees in the morning in the fresh air with a cup of coffee clears my mind, lowers my blood pressure, calms me, centers me and allows me to focus. It's a Zen thing.

Some people raise rabbits or breed dogs. I'll stick with my frutales. They don't run away, they don't bite and - most importantly -  they don't give me any lip.

¡Pura vida!

Friday, May 28, 2010

The 20 Tico Rules of "Pura Vida"


1. "Yesterday never happened and tomorrow does not exist". Every day is the first day.
2. "I don't know" is NEVER an acceptable answer to a question. If you don't know the answer, pretend like you do.
3. Having more than one family is OK. Really.
4. All gringos are wealthy. They are cows. Milk them.
5. Charging Ticos lower prices and foreigners higher prices for goods and services is NOT a form of discrimination.
6. "Thou shalt not steal" is NOT one of the Ten Commandments.
7. "Mañana" does not mean "tomorrow". It means "not today" (or, more accurately, "never at all").
8. Never attempt to complete a task correctly the first time. The third or fourth time is perfectly acceptable. Example: Nueva Ley Transito, Caldera Highway.
9. Never question authority or leadership. It's just the way it is.
10. Avoid confrontation. Always be passive-aggressive. Example: If your neighbor screams in your face (especially if it's in front of someone else), walk away. Wait until night-time, break into his house, and steal his flat-screen TV.
11. Efficiency is the enemy. Inefficiency creates jobs.
12. Spread rumors at every opportunity.
13. Avoid responsibility and do as little as possible at work to preserve your pension.
14. Fútbol is NOT "the opiate of the masses".
15. Your "Mommy" was born without sin, like Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
16. When cleaning, never look up or on top of anything above eye-level.
17. All snakes are venomous.
18. All toads are poisonous.
19. Living with your Mommy after you're married DOES NOT mean you're a pussy.
20. It's NEVER your fault.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Carlos Aurelio Vallejos Contreras (25 Sept. 1956 - 9 May, 2010)

My beloved father-in-law, Aurelio ("Lelo", or "Papi Lelo", as his friends called him), died on Sunday evening at the age of 53. I cannot describe the feeling of loss, but will try - a black hole that manifests itself in profound sadness and deep depression. He was one of my best friends. And I miss him like I've missed no other person in my life.

I awoke from a Sunday afternoon nap to screams about 200 meters up the road toward my sister-in-law's house - screams that give me a chill and goose bumps as I write. I leapt out of bed. My niece (who lives with us) was studying downstairs for exams and bolted out of the house shrieking, "¡Que! ¡Que! ¡Que!" ("What! What! What!). My thoughts were a little kid had fallen, been hit by a car... Where was my daughter, Laila!!??

I jumped in my pickup and peeled out toward my sister-in-law's. Some construction workers on the lot next door to her house were looking over the fence toward her cousin's house. I asked them what was up. They didn't know. I saw a lot of pandemonium at the cousin's house. I drove around to the other road at the hardware store that accesses the house. My sister-in-law and niece were screaming and crying like I've never seen or heard before, in each other's arms - my niece trying to gain control of my sister-in-law. I asked what had happened. She screamed her papi was dead in her house!!!!!

By this time people were walking over the check out the scene. I U-turned, arrived at the house to find my wife on the porch sitting, rocking with her arms around her, screaming and sobbing, "¡No, no mi papi! ¡Mi papi se murio! Nooooo!!!!!" I embraced her, began to cry with her, then told her I had to go inside.

I entered to see my brother-in-law (son of Lelo) sitting on the couch in a trance. I bolted up the spiral stairway and found Lelo on the floor in one of the bedrooms. Another neighbor was seated on the bed, exhausted after trying to resuscitate him. I felt Lelo's forehead. It was on fire. Then one of Lelo's brothers and his grandchild (whom he raised as a son), arrived. The brother felt his head and made the same comment I did about how hot he felt. The grandson got on the floor in tears and put his head on Lelo's chest, sobbing, "Mi papi, no papi..." Lelo's lips were gray. I couldn't watch.

I went back down to console my wife, Carla. But where was my child? Carla said she was still sleeping at the house. I told her I had to go back for her. As I walked back, I encountered my niece, hysterical and in tears, sobbing, dragging my daughter, Laila, back toward me - she had gone back to get her. I grabbed Laila and my niece shot for the house again. She's 14 years old, grand-daughter of Lelo, and also raised by him with her brother, aforementioned.

At this point, people were flooding in, most standing outside, many passing upstairs to where Lelo lay. The ambulance had been called, but had not arrived after almost 25 minutes. Everyone was concentrating on calming my sister-in-law down. She was beside herself, hysterical.

The paramedics finally arrived. They could not save Lelo. He was pronounced dead. My wife was now of a relatively level head and was taking charge. I couldn't help but feel sad and proud at the same time. One of her relatives approached me and told me she had a bag containing all of Lelo's personal possessions that I should take out of the house now. There was a small amount of cash, his cedula, debit cards, watch, rings, etc. - I hid the bag in my truck.

My daughter had no idea what was going on and couldn't understand why mami and papi were crying, and why all these people were here. But 2-1/2 year-olds are pliable. I told here Papi Lelo was sick and we were all trying to help him.

By this time, the women were in the kitchen preparing sandwiches and soft drinks for those arriving - this only happens when a dead person is not coming back. In Costa Rica, the funeral vigil lasts two or three days and begins very soon after the moment of death. While the women took over the kitchen, the men were on the phone to the pastor, the mason (who would construct the crypt), the funeral home that would provide the casket, and the grave diggers who would excavate a shallow hole at the cemetery in Sardinal. The body had not cooled. But in Costa Rica, you don't get embalmed. So the clock starts ticking the minute you die - decomposition accelerated by tropical heat.

I opened the restaurant and donated serving plates, ice, chairs and tables for the vigil. People were piling up in front of the house. A small group of us had drinks at the bar while young men moved the chairs and tables. Word was out and some more people arrived at the bar drawn by the open door on a day when I'm normally closed. They all knew Lelo and were shocked. I loaded up beers in a cooler for the vigil.

The funeral home was called. By 11PM, Papi Lelo lay in a beautiful, hard-wood closed-top wooden casket with an intermediary glass partition for viewing (bluntly: it's a "see-through" closed casket to avoid "off-gases"), and an inlay of Jesus at The Last Supper on each side. He was then moved to his house at the beach, with everything in tow - chairs, tables, food. Someone donated a through-wall A/C unit to keep the room he was in at the beach house cool to stave off Mother Nature for as long as possible. It was propped up on a stool and a plastic trash bag covered the remainder of the window opening.

Hotel Playa Hermosa donated tents. More plastic chairs and tables were rented to assemble in front of the house and on the beach. A steer was slaughtered. Flowers poured in in the middle of the night. The "kitchen" was set up behind the house - three wood fire pits with gigantic cauldrons were constructed out of cinder block to cook rice, and make a beef stew. A large preparation and serving table was constructed. People on vigil need to eat. Everyone pitched in. It was absolutely amazing!

During the following 36 hours (the "kitchen" in operation the entire time). At least 500 people from Samara to La Cruz to San Jose to Tilarán poured in to give condolences, view the body and console each other. People arrived throughout that night, through the next day, through the next night and into the next morning. Lelo had touched the lives of many people during his own.

My wife's two sisters who live in California were arriving on different flights at different times very late on Monday night. Eventually, they both arrived. I had to leave the scene. I broke down when her younger sister stormed into the house screaming, "¡Donde esta mi papi! ¡Quiero mi papi!". It was too much for me.

I spent the 36 hours tending to the needs of my daughter, my wife and myself, talking to friends, neighbors and relatives and eating and drinking, as my wife tended to the needs of her deceased father, and all of the friends and relatives arriving to pay their last respects. Nuns arrived. My wife didn't sleep for 2 days. I cheated, and took cat naps in my pickup with Laila spread across the back seat when she needed a nap and I needed to collapse. Mosquitos were a downer, and I never really slept (even when you crack the windows 1/2", mosquitos find their way in). Laila is "Pura Guanacasteca", and was a real trooper.

I took Laila home for a shower, to change here into her pajamas and to read to her at about 11pm on Monday night. The mass in Playa Hermosa was scheduled for 7am the next day, with another mass at the church in Sardinal following. Then, we would lift his casket and walk from the Sardinal church to the cemetery (about 3 or 4 kilometers) to entomb him. I awoke at 12:30 am to my wife's voice on the telephone. There was blood in her father's mouth and he was bloating. They had to head to the cemetery at 1am to lay him in his final resting place - NOW! She was weeping when she hung up.

I arrived at 1am with Laila, fast asleep on the back seat. There was a delay. Someone had determined that the situation with Lelo's corpse was not as grave as thought. We would wait until 5am to proceed to the cemetery. I tried to sleep on top of the lock box, outside in the bed of my pickup until then, and managed to get a few minutes of sleep.

At 5am the procession started. A bus accommodated those without cars or whom could not hitch a ride in the back of packed pickups. We arrived at the cemetery at 5:20am. We walked to the gravesite where the mason was working to complete the formwork for the top of the tomb (with the amount of precipitation we recieve here, bodies float. So they are entombed in a masonry box with decorative tile, above ground - think New Orleans). A prepared pile of aggregate, cement and sand lay awaiting along side to complete the top of the tomb.

I and 4 others moved Lelo's casket from the back of the white Caprice Classic station wagon to a stand placed next to his final resting place. The casket cover was opened for last views of Lelo, and for last respects. Lelo's eldest daughter wept and groaned on top of the casket and would not let them close it. My mother-in-law stepped in.

The formwork was completed. A garden hose was located and connected to a spigot and the pile of concrete mix on the ground whetted by one and mixed with shovels by 2 others. The casket was lifted on belts by 4 people, lowered and adjusted in place in the cement block tomb. The belts were removed. Kids laid flowers on top of it as bottom boards were placed on top of the tomb in succession, along with a re-bar grid to reinforce the poured concrete that was tied into the re-bar verticals in the cement filled block sidewalls. Two wheel barrows moved the mix in succession, with each load shoveled and troweled on top until Lelo was entombed. People then began to file out of the cemetery. The finish work on the tomb would be completed later.

It was over.

Aurelio had touched my life profoundly without me even knowing so. He was the great provider for his family, sent his 6 kids and 2 grand-kids to private schools, adopted and raised his 2 grandchildren. He was the only person I know here who would give his word on a handshake - and keep it no matter what... The only one! He supported me in my launch of my restaurant, going above and beyond the call in countless ways - he wanted me to succeed and helped me in every possible way to ensure that I did succeed - ways I couldn't even think of. Ways that cost him money, time and effort. He was "Abuelo" to my daughter - her beloved grandfather , "Papi Lelo". He had his faults, like the rest of us. But those were eclipsed tenfold by his love, generosity, humility, integrity and intelligence. Yeah, he was a smart guy too. Smart like a fox. He was the rock of the family.

Now we have no rock. My wife told me I'm the rock now. Great compliment. Big shoes to fill. Scares me.

Te quiero, Lelo. Para siempre. And if I have another kid who is a boy, he will have your name. I love you. I miss you. I will always remember you. And I will make sure Laila remembers you too. I'm sick with despair. But I'm richer for having known and loved you. You've made me a better man that I was before I knew you.

What I'd give to be able to play one more game of pool with you over a beer and some conversation, my father-in-law, my friend... I love you! R.I.P.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bahia Culebra Bar & Restaurant

Well, the bar & restaurant business is pretty much what I expected... with a few exceptions, however. I expected long hours and lots of running around. I expected problems with staff showing up on time - or at all. But I didn't expect having to deck so many drunks, and was very surprised when I was bitten by my brother-in-law in a fight when he was out-of-his-mind-drunk and high on crack trying to smash my street sign. The cinder block drop on the belly and the family running in to stop me as I grabbed one to drop on his head put an end to it... kinda...

...Upon returning to my restaurant the next day after "bite club", I encountered all of my potted palms trashed, mud slung on the facade, my water line broken, and my glasses in the kitchen shattered. But not by by brother-in-law... IT WAS MY MOTHER-IN-LAW!! Mommies and babies...

It turns out I didn't marry a woman after all - I married a tribe! ¡Pura vida!