“You know, I’m waiting for the day when I wake up, and whether its light or dark out, I just don’t even think about what time it is,” said a groggy Adam. It was around eight at night, but Adam had the look of someone who had just rolled out of bed. He lit a cigarette and continued, “That’s when I know I’ve been here long enough, but it hasn’t quite happened yet.”
We were sitting at a table in an open-air restaurant that sat a block from the beach. Next to Adam sat a guy named Josh. The two had only met the day before, but already had plenty to reminisce about. “This town was supposed to be the capital of nightlife in Costa Rica, but last night we were so bored we started keeping a tally of how many times we were offered drugs and sex, just to pass the time,” said Adam, a native of Michigan and former U.S. soldier.
“Last night the dealers were working harder than the prostitutes,” Josh said, a 24-year-old pilot for a domestic airline out of the Midwest. He continued: “I think the final count was drugs 16 and prostitutes 7. Or maybe we just look more like the drugs type.”
Hours before, when we stumbled into our hotel room, we had met Josh and Adam, two friendly travelers soaking in the lazy lifestyle here at Playa Jacó on the north Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Josh, who is 24 and raised in Alaska, had gotten off of work a few days ago (he is a pilot for a domestic airline in the States) and headed to the nearest departure gates at the Denver Airport. He tried to use his charm and pilot privilege to get a free flight to Germany, but was denied, so he kept going down the line until he was let on an overnight flight to Costa Rica.
Adam is about to start at University of Indiana, but had spent his years after high school traipsing around Afganistan and Nigeria for the U.S. military. “I was in Nigeria during 9/11, and we were situated right between the mostly Christian north and Muslim south. Lots of guys were worried that things would get ugly, but nothing happened,” he said.
For us, Costa Rica had been a string of bad luck and underwhelming experiences. Thushan’s wallet, credit cards and all, was the first casualty, stolen five minutes after we showed up at the hostel in San Jose. Later that day, craving Indian food, we spent three hours on a wild goose chase in search of samosas. We got a promising tip from a local, but got off track and could muster only vague non-committal answers from people on the street. The next day, we forged on to the bus station where we were told that due to a closed highway we would be unable to get to the National Park Braulio Carrillo.
We had decided to hop a bus to this little beach town this morning, and the decision was ever so mildly paying off. It is beautiful here, and these two American guys are the most interesting thing to happen to us in three days. A mega mix consisting of 20 seconds of every American rock/pop hit from the past 30 years, set to an unchanging beat, plays in the background. We continue to inquire about what these two guys’ lives were like. “My job is pretty much a cross between Reno 911 and that movie Super Troopers,” Josh the pilot said. He worked standby, and some weeks only got called in for one flight, so he spent most of his time skiing, he said.
Adam was remarkably candid about his service, especially with two guys he had just met: “When I was stationed in Afghanistan, working intelligence, there was one thing I couldn’t figure out: I was receiving information, via satellite, that I had to process and the send, via satellite, to another intel unit. I could have been working from anywhere in the world, so why did they have my ass in a tent in the middle of Afghani war zone?” Our curiosity brimming, we shot questions at him as fast as he could spit out anwers; we didn’t expect to get a first hand critique of the war in Afghanistan in Costa Rica, but we weren’t going to let this slip by.
“The Northern Alliance was into us when we first showed up, but most normal Afghanis saw us as just another outside group promising to get rid of the Taliban. They had heard it all before, and always kind of expected us to botch it in the end, just like everyone else,” Adam said.
The CD of American hits began to cycle through again, and we realized it was time to go. Josh recommended a store that sold “Trits” (phonetic Spanish for “treats”), an ice cream sandwich that his girlfriend said would change his life.
“Maybe that kid will be there too,” Adam said. “Last night, we found this twelve-year-old kid hanging out outside the Beatle Bar [the prostitute hangout]. We made a game out of throwing rocks into a trash can for probably two hours. He was a cool kid, and man, he couldn’t get enough of that game. Every time I turned around he was handing me another rock to throw.”
We walk the few blocks to the store. On the way we pass by the thriving Beatle Bar as yet more scantily clad women and their foreign clients roll up in taxi’s. The boy is at his usual post outside the store, and rock throwing resumes almost immediately. After running out of rocks, even tries to convince Adam to toss the few coins he had to his name into the trash bin. He won’t take no for an answer. “No man, you did this last night. I’m not going to throw away your money. Your gonna need this,” Adam tries to reason with him.
Trits are bought by all, and, true to Josh’s word, they don’t change any of our lives. We decide to head back to the room to get a jump on tomorrow, until the rock thrower throws his hand up in protest. “Buy me some food first,” he says in Spanish.
Adam has no trouble interpreting him. “Alright kid, let’s see, what do you want?”
He heads toward the store entrance, when Josh throws out a feeble, “I already bought him a Trits this afternoon. Get him something healthy.”
Prostitutes stream by. Taxis drop off portly Europeans in blazers. Adam and the kid come out with a Trits and a soda. We head to bed, glad to have seen Playa Jacó, and glad to be leaving in the morning.
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