Traveling has a way of introducing you to a wide array of characters. If you aren't directly introduced you quietly sit on the sidelines and observe those who have made themselves at home in the places that strike you as completely foreign. Our recent travels to Cahuita, a little beach town on the Caribbean coast introduced us to three memorable characters and gave us the opportunity to watch many others (one in particular).
Crazy Old Italian Lady
We stayed at a cute little hostel in Cahuita, the Shangri La'. It is conveniently located next to the bus station and is also the least expensive place that we could find in town. It came complete with a giant dog named Scooby-Do, an Italian ex-pat owner, hammocks and mango trees. And the owner's mom (we assume).
The woman wanders around the hostel and speaks and eclectic mix of Italian and Spanish. When she doesn't know the Spanish word the Italian slides right in and unless you're listening carefully you may not notice since every word that comes out of her mouth is dripping with a thick Italian accent.
Our real exchanges with her revolved around mangoes. Every so often the laid back silence of the hostel was abruptly interrupted by the sound of a mango falling onto the tin roof. She would look to us, establish eye contact and say "Mango!" We would nod in agreement and carry on with our conversation. After a while, she elaborated her "mango" statement to say that the squirrels were picking the mangoes and throwing them. I haven't seen many squirrels in Costa Rica, but those that I have seen are not much bigger than a good sized mango.
Talk of mangoes aside, she soon got up, picked up some of the mangoes and told us that she would serve us mango. We tried to assure her that it was OK, she didn't need to worry about it, but she wandered into the kitchen and returned shortly thereafter with juicy mango bits and a couple of spoons. She walked around to serve the mango to everyone that was at the hostel (there were about 6 of us at that point, remember there were only a couple  of spoons). Josh and Chris politely took some of the mango, I passed perhaps a little too wary of the fact that I hadn't seen how she had prepared the mango and with knowledge that the cat had been wandering around on the counters. Reports were that the mango was very good, it appears that I missed my chance.
Throughout the rest of our time at the Shangri La' our Italian friend was seen wandering here and there, randomly checking in on rooms and entertaining the other guests. The following morning we were offered more mangoes on our way to breakfast but were able to slip away before she started cutting them.
Upon checking out we were able to catch a "buen viaje" thrown in amongst a slew of words shouted our way. She's surely a reason to visit the Shangri La' again!
With darkening skies and our watches betraying the hour, we headed out to the streets of Cahuita in search of dinner. We weren't looking for anything fancy or expensive, just another plate of coconutty rice and beans, but we weren't really sure where we would find that. Upon reaching Cahuita's "main street" we stopped to ponder which way we should go. We didn't have to ponder for long though because Anthony quickly approached us and gave us a heads up as to where we should go. We would get a great price, a lot of food, we just had to say that he had sent us. We thanked him, but let him know that we would also like to check out some of the other restaurants in town.
As we started to walk away he politely asked if we smoked marijuana. We told him no and continued on our way, but not before he was able to offer up a complete menu of an assortment of drugs. We replied no as each new option rolled off of his tongue, trying to walk away. We finally told him that we just don't use drugs and that we were going to find someplace to eat.
While we did check out the place that Anthony tried to send us to it was at the higher end of our price range and since all we wanted were rice and beans, we moved on to someplace a little less costly.
And so, if you find yourself walking around Cahuita at night and a very muscular black man with long dreads walks up to you to tell you where to eat, say thanks, but no thanks and just walk away. Perhaps you can avoid the paraphernalia sales pitch. And if you don't miss the sales pitch, just say no. We joked that he would be the perfect undercover cop, there to nab unsuspecting tourists - you just never know!
"Yes, but more importantly, I made the bread." This was the response that Josh received when asking if our baker friend had made his own bike. Its frame was overlaid with a wooden structure that provided enough support for two heaping baskets of freshly baked, homemade bread.
We had had a couple of hours to spare before our buses took us back toward our homes and went in search of lunch. It was hot and wandering just wasn't doing it for us. We were about to head down a dusty road when all of our problems were solved. A friendly ex-pat of French or Italian descent rode up on his fantastic green bike and showed us his wares. Even if we hadn't been hungry I think we would have made a purchase - it looked and smelled amazing! It didn't hurt that it was still hot (although that could have simply been the ridiculous Costa Rican sun doing it's thing!).
Knowing that he had caught our interest he explained that he had baguettes, batard, fougasse (or perhaps focaccia) and pizza among other goods. The pizza caught our eye with fresh basil and what was sure to be real mozzarella but we ended up going with personal sized fougasse with tomato and mozzarella (so, personal pizzas?) for the steep price of 500 colones (roughly a dollar). They were delicious. Thank you French/Italian Baker.
There was a man who fell somewhere in our age-range who was also staying at our hostel. We never spoke with him, but we did see him around town - everywhere - without his shirt on.
We had noticed him the day of our arrival, but a man without a shirt in a beach town isn't really something unusual. When we saw him at our hostel that night he was still shirtless, but when you're at a hostel it's supposed to be like being at home, we'll forgive him.
We saw him the next morning at breakfast. He came into the wonderful little cafe sans shirt. This was perhaps stretching it a bit. Now we're talking businesses. But, there wasn't a no shirt, no shoes etc. etc. sign and so he was served his food just like the rest of us.
When we left the cafe we saw him wandering around town again, this time with his towel slung over his shoulder ready to go into the corner store. Still without a shirt.
We probably should have been keeping track of how many places we saw him go without his shirt on. It seemed pretty ridiculous. I don't care that we were at the beach. Maybe Costa Rica living has rubbed of on me a little bit - you can be at the beach but still not look like a bum (maybe high heels is taking it too far, but wearing a clean shirt with your swim trunks is a pretty simple task).
Anyway, he may have taken pura vida to the extreme, but I think he was enjoying his beach vacation.
Want to do your own character study at the beach? Come visit, we'd be happy to take you there!