Behind the Scenes: Since I made reference to Costa Rica in my speech, I read this selection from my second book (which I’m still fine tuning) at the European conference of Round Square. The below is from my first trip to Costa Rica in 1993 – it was the trip that seeded the idea of moving there, which was one great big mistake. One of the tough things about talking to a group of people who may have excellent English, but it’s their second or third language, is that humour doesn’t always translate. When I got to the end of the Costa Rican shower scene I heard Germans in the audience whispering, “What is this creature – the dust bunny?”
The Costa Rican Shower Scene
Orotina, Costa Rica. Oh boy. Night had fallen as we cycled slowly down the unpleasant smelling, litter ridden, dusty, main-street. People stared suspiciously at us. We stared at the posters warning of a Dengue fever outbreak. This wasn’t a town tourists visited. Malcolm had asked for directions to a hotel and we were now standing outside the front door of the only motel in Orotina, while Malc haggled with the owner.
“They only take cash,” Malcolm informed us over his shoulder.
“God, do any of us have that much cash left?” Sheila asked Hugh, Paul and me?
“I need to change some travellers’ cheques somewhere. I have nothing,” Paul said.
“Good news is, the room is only twelve dollars American for all of us. She’s going to get the key and will meet us outside the room.” Malcolm led the way. We followed wheeling our bicycles past open sewers, down the narrow alley to our room’s heavy door. The woman was there already unlocking it.
I peeked into the dark concrete interior. If twelve dollars was the good news, I was now looking at the bad news. We scraped together our money, knowing that it meant we’d have nothing left for food and handed it over to the proprietress who departed.
I threw my packs onto one of the twelve single cots that dotted the room haphazardly, sat on the bed and delicately undid the laces of my very cool looking Nike cycling shoe. Great looking shoe, great looking shoe, great looking shoe. “Eeeeeee!” I removed my torturous footwear and admitted, “I should’ve got a size larger.” And then I added, just because it was interesting, “Our veterinarian has a diabetic client who awoke to find his cats dining on his rotting toes, once.” Everyone was still ignoring me.
“If you don’t mind, uh, I’ll hit the shower first,” Paul had his ablutions bag and headed into the bathroom.
“And would anyone mind if I plug the fan in?” Hugh asked.
We all laughed sarcastically. The room was stifling and stinky, or maybe it was us that were stinking. There was only one tiny, high, window, which faced the breezeless narrow alley. The fan was a decrepit dangerous finger munching metal contraption on a tall stand on wheels. Hugh pulled it into the middle of our cell.
“Careful,” Sheila warned.
Hugh picked up the frayed plug. He walked to the socket and looked at us. “I’ll just blow the dust out of the outlet first.” He knelt on the floor and blew into the electrical socket.
“We definitely need the fan,” I said, glad not to be plugging the upside-down boat-propeller into the wall.
“You guys come here right now!” Paul clad in a towel yelled to us from the open bathroom door.
Hugh dropped the plug and the rest of us crawled off our beds to see what grisly thing awaited us.
“Check out the shower, um, what’s that?” Paul pointed to a device attached to the showerhead.
Sheila laughed, “Oh, this is going to take you all some time to get used to. I still hate them. This is the way Costa Ricans heat their water.” And for once she didn’t have the tone to say everything Costa Rican was superior.
“How’s it work?” I asked.
Paul slapped my shoulder. “I don’t think it is supposed to work like this because all these electrical zigzags and sparks jumped out of it. Blue sparks. I thought I was toast, eh.”
“No, that’s how they work,” Sheila howled. “I forgot to warn you guys about these. That open ended electrical connection with current jumping between each wire is how they heat the water. I haven’t been electrocuted yet, but I still don’t like it,” she said and standing to the side to avoid being sprayed, turned on the tap and blue sparks leapt across from the connections.
“It’s arcing,” Malc jumped back.
We all skidded into one another trying to get out of the puddle of water on the bathroom floor that surely was carrying a deadly current. Sheila wept with laughter.
“Oh, that’s not right,” Paul clutched his towel that was now just covering his crotch.
“You’re going to have to get used to it or this is going to be a very smelly cycling trip,” Sheila said eyeing Paul’s towel.
“Okay, Paul, go for it,” Malc shrugged and we all left Paul in the bathroom. Sheila, Malc and I flopped on the spring-ridden beds and Hugh went back to the wall socket.
“You know,” Hugh said getting down on his knees, “after seeing that, what’s the worst that can happen when I plug this airplane-propeller into the wall?” Hugh aimed the plug at the socket.
“Hey!” Malc roared and Hugh fell to the floor. “Paul, what are you doing in there?”
“What?” Paul asked.
“The water is flooding the room!” Malc yelled.
The floor of our room was filling with water. It was seeping under the bathroom door and lapping across the concrete floor.
“It’s not my fault!” Paul was aghast.
Water was flowing under my bed.
“I thought I was going to die by the fan.” Hugh held his heart, panic stricken.
“I didn’t think about it before,” Paul called from the bathroom, “but there isn’t a shower stall. I mean I was just looking at the sparks but the bathroom floor is the shower and there isn’t a drain.” He’d shut off the water.
“Oh, yes, there is a drain,” I said in disbelief. The shower drain was underneath my bed.
“Who’s next?” Paul asked as he skidded out of the bathroom and across the floor.
“Should I plug in the fan, or is this too dangerous now with water on the floor?” Hugh asked.
“Just plug it in, Hugh,” Sheila said.
Hugh obeyed. It made a funny noise, a clunk, a groan, and then it was suddenly like one of those airboats whizzing around the Everglades. I didn’t cover my ears—I covered my eyes and ducked. The lethal fan had obviously not been used in a decade. It scattered a cloud of dust with great violence around the room.
“If you don’t mind,” coughed Paul who looked like he was wearing a suit knitted from dust-bunny wool, “I’m just going to head back to the shower”.