If you lean in to conversations with local people and keep in mind their unique attitudes and lifestyles, you will be rewarded tenfold while traveling.
After a cool-off swim in the pool accompanied by a few persistent Great Kiskadees – small yellow and brown colored birds - perching overhead in the swaying palms and an inconspicuous lime green iguana quietly nibbling leaves, my husband and I headed into Tamarindo for dinner a short mile away. The sunset didn’t disappoint over the Pacific coastline where its colors fanned out framing the volcanic mountains to the west.
A youngish waiter seated us at a table on the patio and made his usual generic conversation starter. “How was the surf today?”
Tamarindo is celebrated as a mecca for surfers, and for those sharpening their skills, they are at home in a paradise abounding with friendliness. Costa Rica has no military and crime is low, even in tourist areas with normal precautions.
“Do we look like surfers, dude?” my husband replied tongue in cheek.
The waiter didn’t miss a beat and used his next best line for visitors. “I hope you are enjoying your stay in Costa Rica.”
He patiently listened while I expounded on my joy with our condo pool and explained that where I come from people are shivering in the winter cold. I don’t suppose he could relate to the North American climate, yet he tried valiantly by sharing his story. He remembered looking forward to pool time when he was a kid traveling with his grandma.
That was about as much dialogue that we had with him the rest of the meal, other than his checking on our dinner choices and drink order. As the temperatures cooled into the high 70s we had survived a typical March day – dry, 97 and sunny.
A conversation that I had with an American family with two teenage boys while we were at a coffee plantation was in stark contrast leaving me shaking my head at the presumption so ingrained in behavior.
The teenagers didn’t want to be there, and every step of the way they informed their parents of such, along with reminding them that they didn’t drink coffee. The tour guide was admirable in trying to engage the boys, but to no avail. He couldn’t beat the competition – cell phones.
Shouldn’t I have given them a reality check at this point? Something held me back from telling the boys to go with the flow and don’t ruin the experience for others. They stayed on their phones and never once spoke to their parents or acknowledged us. Well, they did ask when they were leaving twenty thousand times.
On the way back up the hill from observing the coffee processing and grinding, the father informed me in an authoritarian tone all in a matter of a couple minutes – everyone else had moved on faster ‒ that he is a corporate executive for one of the leading health insurers in the U.S., and owns two homes in exclusive sections of Scottsdale and New York City. He mistakenly assumed that I would be impressed by his importance. I assessed the man had some deep-seated insecurities and we couldn’t have a casual dialogue.
We had a more down-to-earth moment with the owner of our local café bar. She shared that her husband was originally from Buffalo. Go figure. She pointed us in the direction of the weekly farmers’ market on the beach, and we wandered down to spend a few CR colones on local melons and cheeses.
The next day my husband and I rented an electric golf cart to get around. We probably wouldn’t adjust to the excessive heat in two weeks time as hard as we tried keeping hydrated. The alternative ATV mode of transportation is rough on your back as you get older and the bumpy roads don’t help matters here. There are potholes dotting the roads, and of course, at the most inopportune time.
By the way, drivers of all types of vehicles have excellent road manners, and for example, an SUV overtaking a golf cart waits its turn to pass. No honking horns. No rage. No hurry.
The other impressive thing is whether walking or riding, locals make eye contact, wave and say, “Hola.” You certainly feel the pride they have in their country.
Saying that, you are supposed to charge your cart overnight, right? When we merrily got in ours the next morning headed out to walk the beach, we ran out of juice en route.
I won’t deny there were some utterances back and forth, and one or two, “I told you so’s.” Frustration goes along with hot temperatures and new environments.
Fortunately, I walked the beach – it was hot and windy at 8 am - and my husband got his exercise walking back to the nearby rental place. A wonderful guy got him straightened out without excessive embarrassment. You like to think that at our age we have life figured out, but those little surprises keep us on our toes.
“Crazy tourists. You must be tired of us,” I said when he shook my hand.
“No. No. Crazy machines. Don’t feel bad. It happens all the time, and to the locals, too. The dials don’t indicate how much charge you have left.” He kindly followed us back to our condo gate like a special escort.
We waved good bye to him, sheepishly drove in to recharge for a few hours and sip some rich iced Costa Rican coffee before planning our next adventure. Live and learn.