Lisa and… No Chocolate Factory?

Puerto ViejoIt took Lisa and I only a few hours to realize that spending another day in cold, wet San Jose was not an option, and the following morning we were headed to the bus stop to make the voyage to the Caribbean coast. What a refreshing and welcome arrival was dear, sweet Lisa, incessantly smiling, deliciously unique, and with my remorseless complement in sweet irony and satyrical sarcasm. We had also met up with a curious young English lady who was planning on catching the second bus of the day to Puerto Viejo, a small Afro-Caribbean surf and sun type of town, and all agreed that it would be a splendid idea if we made the journey together. As Lisa and I took turns dragging her broken-wheeled, dead carcass of a rolly-suitcase the ten blocks down to the bus station, over jagged, war-torn-looking sidewalks, we began planning our fabulous next seven days together. The rough plan was to unwind and do some snorkeling in rasta-ville (Puerto Viejo), do some volcano watching and hiking at Arenal, jump on board the eco-tourism trend and enjoy the high-altitude fresh air in Monteverde, and then slide down the Pacific coast back to Manuel Antonio, to give Lisa a taste of the white sand paradise that Costa Rica had to offer (and also to return for my bicycle, where some friendly cabana neighbors had agreed to look after her). And although you can plot out your idealized game-plan at the beginning of any new journey, the truth is that its not really an adventure until you start running into the quirky characters, inconvenient shifts in the weather, and unexpected detours and obstacles along the way… as Lisa and I soon found out.
Unfortunately, we had dragged our backsides to the bus station at the last minute, due to the few extra cocktails that we had tied on the night before, and it was a tough call as to whether we would spend the next four hours on a bus to the coral reef lined tropics, or sitting in a bus terminal waiting for the next ride. As we were just arriving at the station, we heard the final boarding call for Puerto Viejo and sprinted into the terminal, desperately searching for the right window to buy our tickets. Upon finding it, a other disgruntled backpackers stood a few feet away and we wondered if this bus was already all sold out. However, in what we thought was a stroke of luck, they informed us that there were still a few more spaces available in the aisles, and after a moment’s deliberation we deemed that it was best not to waste away our precious week together in Costa Rica, and made for the departure area.
But one by one, as we climbed the steps into the bus, our jaws immediately dropped. At first it seemed completely shocking and ridiculous: not only was every single last seat of the weathered, ancient bus filled, but the entire narrow aisle from the caboose almost to the driver’s seat, was jam packed with people sitting one in front of another on the floor, with all of their packs and luggage squeezed in around them. What had we gotten ourselves into? Yet, as it was the beginning of our little backpacking expedition together, we quickly fell into laughter over the comic irony of the situation, and decided that this was all part of the fun. Two hours later, fun was probably the last thought crossing our minds.
Ok, ok, I must admit that within the last hour or so of the ride I did manage to get a seat when one of the other passengers in the front of the bus got off, and yes, I did leave Lisa and Elizabeth sitting on their sorry asses on the floor (actually, that wasn’t really her name, but I can’t honestly remember what it is anymore and I wanted to give her a nice, proper English name for the story – plus, its probably best not to disclose her true identity based on the nature of what’s to come). Now, you probably think I’m horrible person for leaving two women sitting on the floor while I lounged in the front seat – well, you try being six foot five and packing in with your knees against your chest and your shoulders jammed in between the seat-frames on a sweltering bus for three hours. So I battled my conscience for almost an entire minute, decided that the girls would most certainly want what was best for me, and decided to take a nap until we reached our destination.
As you can imagine, the girls had plenty of “constructive criticism” for me when we were finally in Puerto Viejo and ambling down the dirt roads searching for a place to shower and spend the next few nights. But it was all in jest and we were just happy to finally be there and excited to begin exploring. Once we had settled into the little motel-esque hostel that another young lady in San Jose had recommended, we decided to head out for a stroll down along the waterfront and maybe a swim, if the right beach presented itself.
It was interesting, but I hadn’t realized that Lizzy (Elizabeth) had a very direct way of only addressing me when she spoke, and showing complete disinterest in conversation with me. Naturally, Lisa was the one that informed me of this and burst me out of my obliviously gregarious state (as I had been ping-pong talking back and forth between the two the whole time). We had been strolling down the gorgeous shallow-reef lined coast, working our way from the sleepy little hamlet of Puerto Viejo out along the white sands that skirted the surf, then down a windy path through the coastal jungle. After passing heaps of neon orange and blue crabs, we arrived at the throbbing tides of a picturesque beach bathed in the melting hues of early dusk. Although I was stripped down to my suit and went peeling off towards the breakers only moments later, the girls were a little apprehensive but just needed a little coaxing. Well, good ol’ Lisa at least, as Lizzy wasn’t really up for the turbulent waters.
Between being knocked up, down, around and back by the raging tide, Lisa managed to convey to me that she was feeling slightly marginalized by our newfound friend – a sentiment that would only grow with our time spent together. I assured Lisa that it was nothing and that surely she was just reading into it too much, and for the moment we left it at that, as the conversation shifted to Lisa’s mischievous bikini, which had a funny way of incessantly attempting to escape her. Yet, over the course of the coming week I was to become no stranger to Lisa’s complete and unabashed glory, and what better time to accustom myself than at the beginning.
Upon hauling our bedraggled selves from the ravenous ocean the sun was beginning to set amid fiery amber and scarlet Caribbean shades, and it appeared to be an apt time to make our way back to our lodging in Puerto Viejo. Working our way along the winding jungle path towards the village, we made sporadic conversation, and indeed I did begin to notice the polarity of our trio strongly gravitating towards my direction. But what was this strange phenomenon, and how had I grown to be the sun within our small solar system? The certainty of my suspicions would only present themselves as the course of events of the following day unfolded and Lisa and I’s path would invariably and forever diverge from that of our newfound companion.
Undoubtedly drawing from our beleaguering voyage and lengthy hike the day prior, we had decided to have an early night so as to rise and shine and carpe diem that following morning. Well, that is, right after we had joyously endured Lizzy unceremoniously pummeling us (me) with her miraculous life’s accomplishments, and extolling the many virtues of her charmed existence. Nevertheless, once we had recovered the following morning, the outlook was promising: rent some lovely little bicycles (like Eddie and Pats in Paris), ride along the secluded jungle road to the provincial coastal pueblo of Manzanillo, lunch on some delicious Caribbean coastal fare, snorkel in the tranquil turquoise waters, and hike through the lush tropical foliage of the Gandoca-Manzanillo wildlife refuge, before pedaling back to Puerto Viejo. After we had showered, applied sunscreen, and prepared Lisa and I’s soon to be signature breakfast of diced fresh fruit, creamy yogurt, and nutritious granola, we sat in the common area of the hostel breakfasting. All the while, tactfully evading any long-term conversation with the young afro-Caribbean gentleman from Tortuguero who languished in the task of describing to us the beauties of “smoking a big spliff,” to start off the day, as he sat mesmerized in front of cartoons.
Nevertheless, we declined his offer of smokin’ the spliff, and less than an hour later I was tearing down the rutted dirt jungle road on my rusty rented ghetto beach-cruiser, spinning my pedals with unprecedented haste, and throwing my head back menacingly to cackle and screech “you’ll never get me my pretties, if it’s the last thing you do!!” (yes, I know its backwards!), as I left Lisa and Lizzy in my swirling dust cloud. And I must be quite honest with you, I’m not really the competitive type, but I was quite languishing in the fact that I could once again toy with others in a language of which I had a solid grasp, and be certain that I could convey my sense of comedy without appearing stark, raving mad. And so we flew, racing through the dense palm fronts and past odd thatched WiFi huts along the way, until suddenly, thar she was – Paulie and the Chocolate Factory. When I had spotted the inconspicuous sign poking out from the foliage saying “Fabrica de Chocolate” (or something along those lines), I almost came to a screeching halt. Wait, so let me get this right, here I was, riding my bicycle through paradise with one of my best friends ever, on our way to go snorkeling in warm, bath-like Central American waters, and we’d just “happened” to stumble upon a chocolate factory in the middle of the jungle??? Was I having my version of Cameron Diaz’s dream from “The Sweetest Thing”?
Well, I don’t suppose that I need inform you as to our highly democratic decision that I dictated to my two female companions, as I led them off the main road and bouncing along under the steamy green canopy. Promptly, we discovered a suitable site at which to lock up our rides and followed the signs up to the fabrication point – which I was sure would be an elaborate and grandiose factory, tucked away into the isolated forest fauna, and which I only hoped I hadn’t needed to remember my golden ticket in order to gain entry. However, at the end of the path we discovered a thatched roof supported by four posts, and one chocolatier lounging about while lazily rolling tiny brown logs of cocoa. No! Say it isn’t so! Where was the chocolate river? The Oompa Loompas?? Where were Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde??? Oh sweet illusion, why had thou forsaken me!
Well, the fact of the matter was that we had come for chocolate, and chocolate we would have! So, as my sweet dreams of golden ticket fortune began to fade away, I had half a mind to say to the gentleman, “look here, if you are wise you’ll listen to me… and hand over the chocolate!” but I caught myself quickly and decided to err on the sake of prudence. In my most charismatic and logical approach, I began the interrogation – where was the factory? Where were all the workers? Was there a free tour? And most importantly of all, where were the free samples! Well, as it turned out, it certainly wasn’t any Willy Wonka operation – this was it: a hut, a man, and some cocoa. But that was ok, it didn’t take long to learn that there were no free samples, but there was fresh made chocolate for gringo dollars, and I judiciously decided that in the name of quality control it was my duty to sample every last flavor. Fortunately, there were only eight flavors, and even more fortunately, they were far more competitively priced than any such equivalent product you might find North of the Gulf of Mexico.
Satisfied with our purchases, Lisa, Lizzy and I opted not to invest our money on the chocolate tour, as the process was clear: cocoa -> chocolate. Not really rocket science there. So we made our way back to our hotrods and rumbled back to the main road. Although for me it was quite a luxurious day in the park riding from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo, the girls weren’t quite used to cycling through the sweaty heat of the tropics, and once we finally came rolling into the town of Manzanillo, over two hours after our departure that morning, they were wiped out. Fortunately, the town consisted of about six buildings altogether, the first of which just so happened to be the snorkeling rental shop. We shod our burdensome bikes in a corner under the shaded front awning of the shop and plopped down to begin questioning the dive shop “professional” as to what the plan was.
It didn’t take long for us to be rested and ready to get in the water – and thats how I found myself plodding through town in my speedo and flippers, ready for some coral divinity! But as we approached the “peaceful” bay, things looked just a little bit choppy. We saw two other bruised and battered Eastern European gringos laboriously pulling themselves from the water with their snorkels, as if shipwrecked, but reassured ourselves that surely there was no ocean in their country in which to learn how to swim, and hence they were undoubtedly the victims of poor swimming instruction. As girls often do, Lisa and Lizzy wasted their time on pondering whether it might be a good idea to take a stroll down the beach and see if we could find the most ideal spot in which to begin our snorkeling, but I wisely decided to begin walking backwards into the crashing waves the second we touched the sandy coastline. Ah, and what sweet snorkeling it was!
After about fifteen minutes of being dragged through the vacuum-like undercurrent, belly scraping over jagged coral outcroppings, trying desperately to squint my eyes to spot minnows through the swirling brown sand underneath the waves, my optimism began to fade. As poked my head above water to see where Lisa and Lizzy were, I managed to spot them about thirty or so yards off in different directions, in between fruitlessly trying to clear the water from my snorkel again and again, as the waves incessantly invited themselves in. In keeping with that theme, at about the same time, one of my flippers began to work itself loose from my foot, threatening to slip off into the tumultuous void, and forcing me to try to crouch, while floating, to reaffix the bugger. Of course, like any good first-world citizen, I remember that the most important lesson is to never harm the coral! And therefore I refused to put my other foot down to stay myself. Ok, well, my resolution began to tumble as I rolled relentlessly through the riptide atop the reef in the fetal position in a desperate attempt to right myself.
About ten minutes later, and slightly more frazzled than when we had first entered, the three of use reconvened in a heap on the beach. So snorkeling was out – what was the next item on the agenda? Well, I think that I can speak for us all when I say that I was positively famished. So once again, I provided some direction for our small troupe and hassled the girls back to the snorkeling shop and then to a promising looking comedor (restaurant shack). Well, the funny thing about Paul is that when he’s hungry… he’s hungry! And unfortunately, those voluptuous Caribbean mamasitas worked at their own pace – or as I like to call it, tomorrow. About an hour and a half later, we finally received the meal that we had been longing for, a single chicken wing, shredded lettuce, some white rice, and a little spattering of black beans – clearly a labor of love. But it was alimentation we were after, and making quick work of the min-feast, we payed and made for our next destination.
Ambling through the sand street past the central town cluster of wooden buildings, we passed along towards the nature reserve farther along the beach. Even though our faithful guide book had mentioned that there were occasional muggings along the isolated paths, I was confident that Lisa and Lizzy’s brute strength would surely ward off any unwanted predators and we intrepidly waded through the small river which marked the border of the reserve. We strolled leisurely along the secluded jungle path, peeling our eyes for sights of rare tropical ornithological sightings or mischievous monkeys, but to no avail. Nonetheless, the forest was deliciously pristine, and the lapping tide could be heard just off to our left as we forged onwards. We hadn’t gone long before spotting a picturesque rocky outcropping that jutted out into the sea and decided to head that way to investigate. As we admired the scenery, we chuckled and jested about random subjects briefly before turning to head back to the path, but as we did we had no idea what shocking surprise awaited us.
From the dense tropical foliage, a group of five stocky coal-skinned caribbean youths sprang from the underbrush with a roar! Oh why hadn’t we listened to our wizened guide book’s warning! Here we were, by the roaring tide, deep in the reserve where no one could hear us scream or race to our rescue. I cringed behind Lisa as I knew she would undoubtedly fight tooth and nail to save me from these bandits. But after our initial surprise, the youths began laughing condescendingly at us, made a few feeble jokes, and then continued their was along the path through the woods. Oh sweet mercy, we had been delivered from evil so that I might once more be given my daily bread.
Well, you can imagine that after this little scare our appetite for exploration was somewhat daunted and we decided that it was getting far too late to be rummaging about in these distant jungles anymore, therefore making our way back to Manzanillo and our bicycles. After a rather slow paced and jaunty ride back to Puerto Viejo (during which Lisa’s scandalous bike gave her no end of trouble, leaving her marked from head to toe in black bicycle grease), we were finally rolling back into town and ready to return our rental cycles from whence they had come. We made our way haggardly back to the hostel, ready for some showers and contemplating how we would enjoy our last night out on the town in Puerto Viejo.
But once all was said and done and we had consumed our light supper back at base camp, the evening was beginning to wear on. Our friend Lizzy (whom by this point had clearly become the self-proclaimed queen of my fan club), after not having received my returned affection over the past two days, proclaimed that she would be up with the chickens the following morning and off to “Bockers” (Bocas del Toro) on the Northeastern tip of Panama, and therefore would not be joining us that evening. So Lisa and I headed out to live it up with the rastas (and our two Caribbean Guatemalan friends) in what was said to be the bumping downtown Puerto Viejo scene.
Now, given, Puerto Viejo probably has about a total of fifty buildings to its name, but supposedly its the party capital of the Caribbean Central American scene. However, thats not exactly what greeted us as we passed a few empty open bars wailing out played out Bob Marley classics and other obscure reggae. Finally, we settled on a nondescript open hall-of-a-bar that apparently was promoting ladies night that evening (which I think meant that they were serving two for one virgin drinks or one teaspoon of rum per cocktail) and sat ourselves out front. Well, Lisa and I had sagaciously thought to lug our own bottle of rum around the country with us, and hence pre-gamed back at the hostel after our dinner and were already somewhat giddy. But with our Caribbean friends blowing pungent clouds of smoke directly into my face, it was only a short bout before I began to feel the world swirling around me. I had quite suddenly and unwittingly become completely incompetent and thought of nothing other than returning to my bed to lay myself down in comfy pillows. I begged Lisa pathetically to carry me back to the hostel, but she politely refused on the grounds that she thought it would be quite unladylike for her to be trampled beneath my half-conscious carcass in the middle of the sandy street. When this failed, I then pleaded for her to help me hobble to the bushed and leave me there so that I might rest my bones a bit before making the long, arduous journey the two blocks back to the hostel, but again, she suggested otherwise.
And so, the long and shart of it was that moments later Lisa found herself slowly pacing down the dark road with me crumpled heavily on her shoulder back to reprieve. When we arrived, Lizzy was lying in her bottom bunk (there was one bunk bed and a queen-size bed in the room) still awake and reading and greeted us. Well, I wasn’t quite in the mood for chit chat and could think only of making the laborious climb up to my top bunk (woe is me for having used up my queen-size bed option the night before!) and slump down heavily, but still quite lucid. Lisa, who had not had her shower earlier, decided to head into the bathroom and rinse off before bed-time, leaving Lizzy and I all alone in the room.
Then, that was when it began. The last pitiful, desperate attempt. Lizzy began asking me some quite personal questions from the bunk down below, and when I began to play my oblivious card she shifted strategies and began speaking seductively to me. I could only keep playing dumb for so long and didn’t know how else to fend off her advances. Oh Lisa!! Why, oh why, had you decided to shower now! Why had you left me all alone in this room with the wench! What could I do?? My mind raced for a solution, and mercifully, the obvious presented itself. I could just play the unconscious card! And what opportune timing it was, as Lizzy was about to pull out her final ace. From below I heard her provocatively invite me below with, “I need a big strong man, who’s not my boyfriend (yes, she had a boyfriend back in England), to come down here and cuddle me to sleep.” I cringed and buried my face in my pillow, wishing that this horrible nightmare would soon be over. And then it was.
The next when Lisa and I were finally rising from our slumber, Lizzy was already long gone, gone with the chickens. What a sigh of relief! As most certainly there would have been no comfortable or tactful way to confront her after the previous night’s debauchery. But indeed, this pivotal and unforgettable night had marked the end of Lisa and I’s Caribbean Costa Rica adventure, and only a short while later we were back on a bus to the interior and on to yet other mysterious and unforeseen scandal in some new and exotic tropical world.


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