Saturday, July 23, 2005

Honeymoon: Matapalo and beyond

It's been exactly a month since the last installment of the Honeymoon saga, so I figured it was time to write up the next [and last, thankfully !] part of our travails. To refresh your memory: Christina and I had just fled from the second place that had disappointed our expectations, and arrived in Matapalo, of which we had fond memories from a previous vacation.

The first couple of days were, if not perfect, at least better than what we'd experienced before: I got a chance to do some surfing, albeit in pretty small waves and the weather wasn't too bad ie it didn't rain all the time. However, there really was very little else to do if you weren't surfing, so we basically spent the time eating, sleeping and reading. That also got old pretty quickly, so on our third day we decided to go into Puerto Jimenez to do a bit of grocery shopping and avoid going totally insane with cabin fever.

We'd originally planned to stand by the side of the road and wait for the sporadic pickup/bus service into town, but we ended up getting a ride into town with a cabinetmaker from NY who was also in Costa Rica with his family. It turned out that he was also into motorcycles, so we spent a pleasant 30 minutes discussing the virtues of anti-lock brakes and telelever suspension that are unique to BMW motorcycles [those Germans, always overengineering things ...]. As our luck would have it, we arrived in Puerto Jimenez during siesta, so to speak -- the grocery store was closed for the next hour, so we had to sit around and wait for about an hour, sharing a bench with an older gentleman. He appeared rather interested in Christina, my presence notwithstanding, but once it was established that she didn't speak Spanish and he didn't speak English, the conversation petered out and we sat in companionable silence, waiting for the store to open.

After we'd stocked up on groceries, we walked back into the center of town [which took all of about 5 minutes, since it's a pretty small town ...] and arranged for a pickup truck to take us back to Matapalo. As we were waiting, Christina, with her unfailing instinct for finding animals, or, more specifically, animals that require some form of assistance, managed to find a puppy that was stumbling around in the street. It was a really young puppy which barely had its eyes open and was flea-ridden and generally rather mangy-looking. It didn't appear to belong to anybody, nor was its mother around, so of course Christina spent the next 10 minutes asking everybody within a 100-yard radius whether they knew who it belonged to etc, to no avail. Then came the inevitable question: "Can we take it with us ? We can't just leave it here !". Now, my attitude when it comes to stray animals [without collars] is fairly hard-nosed in that I don't feel personal responsibility to make sure they're OK; they either make it or they don't. Given that, my response was that I wanted no part of being responsible for a puppy in a foreign country, far away from anything resembling a dog pound, with no clear idea of what we would do with it when we left in 3-4 days. This combination of irresistible force [Christina's conviction that she couldn't leave the puppy] meeting immovable object [my stance that I wanted no part of it] eventually led to a frosty detente: we took the dog with us, after I made it clear that it was entirely Christina's responsibility to figure out what to do with it [our first major disagreement as a married couple -- aren't those supposed to happen after the honeymoon ?].

When we got back, Christina gave the dog a thorough scrubbing:

... and then proceeded to pull a Jedi mind trick which would have astonished even Yoda: she had a conversation with Marjorie [the housekeeper at the place we were renting] that went something like this:

Christina: "Hey, Marjorie, have you ever wanted a dog for your kids ?"
Marjorie: "[Yes]"
Christina, pretty much pulling the puppy out of her pocket: "Look, I have one for you !"

... and poor Marjorie ended up with the puppy. She was actually pretty happy about it, so it wasn't like she was duped into it, but I'm sure she wasn't expecting to get a dog quite so soon after expressing interest in it.

By the fourth day, the surf was absolutely flat [it'd been flat for a couple of days, actually], so we decided to just go for a swim. I got out of the water about 50 yards away from Christina and was walking towards her when she gave a bit of a scream and started batting at the water at her knees. I figured she'd just been scared by a bit of seaweed drifting past her but when she didn't stop yelling, I realized that it wasn't that benign and ran towards her. When I got to her, she'd gotten out of the water and was looking at knees and crying, for reasons that became obvious pretty quickly: she looked like she'd been whipped across the knees, with her skin red and blistering -- she'd run right into a jelly fish. Except that this wasn't a normal jellyfish, this must have been the Ur-jellyfish, given how bad her knees looked. I picked her up and ran down the beach towards a bunch of Costa Ricans, figuring they'd know what to do about jellyfish stings. However, all they could do was goggle at poor Christina's blistering skin and say "Wow, I've never seen anything like that before !", further confirming that she'd run into one badass creature.

By now, there were a bunch of people gathered around her and a couple of them told me to pee her on her knees -- apparently, this is supposed to help reduce the irritation [though in some cases it can make it worse]. Now, I wasn't about to pee on my wife of less than 2 weeks [that'll come later, when I'm incontinent and she has to take care of me ;-)], much less in public, so I politely declined that particular bit of advice and asked for alternative suggestions. Vinegar was proposed as an alternative, so I ran off to the nearest houses, frantically asked for some vinegar and rushed back to pour it on her knees [it didn't help]. While I was gone, there was apparently an exchange on the subject of urine between an Indian couple that revealed a bit too much information:

Woman: [says something about urine]
Husband, just overhearing the word "urine": "What is it with you and urine ? Always urine, urine, urine, always telling me to drink it ..."
Woman: "no, that's what you're supposed to do for jellyfish stings"
[embarrassed silence]

[This isn't actually as, uhm, personally revealing as it sounds -- drinking urine is an old Indian therapy]

At this point, Christina had composed herself, so we went back home and put some aloe vera on her knees, which helped a bit, but not much:

Needless to say, she didn't go in the water again during the rest of our trip.

The last couple of days in Matapalo were pretty uneventful [in other words, boring]: the surf stayed flat and we'd read all the books we'd brought along, so all there was to do was eat, sleep and sit on the balcony in between those two activities, sweating and being disgruntled:

There are only a couple of minor things worth mentioning in connection with the last two days:

- One night, it was raining so hard on the tin roof of our house that Christina kept thinking there was a steel drum band playing somewhere out in the jungle and asking me whether I heard the music too.
- Mike Hennessy told us various stories about the Osa peninsula, like going fishing in the Corcovado National Park, setting up a tent on an island and realizing that all the little lights out in the water were the eyes of crocodiles, moving towards them; of the fellow who sucked the poison out his girlfriend's leg after she'd been bitten by a fer-de-lance and then promptly lost all his teeth [apparently the poison destroyed his gums]; the fellow who used to surf naked etc
- Seeing a video of a huge swell that had come through Matapalo a few weeks earlier, resulting in 10-15 ft waves, with Mike having a great time surfing them.

Sometime during those last two days in Matapalo, we also agreed that we had officially had an absolutely rotten honeymoon, and that we'd need to do it over.

Getting home:
Nothing else untoward happen during the rest of our time in Costa Rica: we flew back to San Jose, spent a couple more days at the Xandari [air conditioning and hot showers !] and then flew back to Seattle. We arrived in Seattle fairly late, around 11 pm and, for once, our bags had actually made it all the way from Costa Rica to Seattle with us [which was emphatically not the case the first time we went to Costa Rica: our bags were delayed both going down there and coming back], so we thought we were home free. Hah.

While we were gone, we'd hired a cat sitter to come in and check on our cats every day. We'd used her before and she was quite good -- we came home to happy cats and a little note saying that she'd played with them every day etc. This time, we came home to a pile of notes, with a chronology like this:

Day X: "Noticed that there was nothing in their litter boxes, but didn't think much about it"
Day X+1: "Next day, still nothing, so I thought they might be constipated, so I gave them castor oil" [or something like that]
Day X+2: "Still nothing, so I went looking around the house to see whether they'd been using something other than their litter boxes, but couldn't find anything"
Day X+3: "Decided to go look in your bedroom and, well, I found their litterbox ..."

Those little f!ckers [yes, I still have strong feelings about this] had been using our bed as their litterbox for a few days. Apparently, they were "upset" that we were gone. Vindictive bastards.

The poor catsitter tried to do just about everything to fix it -- she washed our sheets and comforter multiple times, scrubbed our mattress, put it outside to dry etc, but it was no good. It still all stank of cat urine, so we spent our first night back at home, after our ever-so-excellent honeymoon, sleeping on our futon mattress.

And that, my friends, officially completes our instructive tale of woe on how not to have a honeymoon.

PS: Christina's knees took about 4 weeks to heal; at one point, they would itch so badly that she'd scrub them with a hairbrush. She had scars for about 6 months. We ended up getting rid of everything except the bedframe [mattress, box springs, sheets etc] because there was no way to get rid of the smell of cat urine.


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