After a good night’s sleep in the Atenas casita – well casita is a small house, this is a casitita; a doll house! Amazingly, even in its tininess, it has all the amenities we could ask for: a two car covered carport, a washing machine AND dryer (don’t have to worry about the ladrones (thieves) stealing our stuff from the clothesline any more), a comfortable queen-sized bed, large tiled patio with view of the quaint village and mountains, and (ta-da!) a microwave … movie and popcorn, oh boy! So, instead of entertaining our guests in the 3 bedroom, 3 ½ bath beach house, we dragged a futon into the living room and cozied up for a pajama party. There is no door between the bedroom and living area, so “night noises” were in no way camouflaged; at least when the dogs visit you could maybe get away with some snoring or passing-of-wind. Not this time, night-gassers and nose-honkers. We are going to hear you!
After a fabulous breakfast of papaya and frittata Don went off to slay dragons in San Jose and the three musketeers piled into the extra-long SUV headed for points south of Jaco. First stop: Costa Esterillos, the gated community where we were going to build our dream homes on the hill over-looking the sea. As the skyline of Jaco (Haco) appeared on the horizon, Reid’s jaw dropped. There were several abandoned condominium projects looming with black mold growing on the concrete walls, crumbling staircases, broken out windows, and vines weaving through some parts. Jan and Reid hadn’t been there is four years; we got the feeling that one day the workers just put their hammers down and never returned. Having visited recently, I remained quiet knowing what we would find behind the gate at Costa Esterillos. They would see soon enough.
As we drove through town, the mood lightened a bit; restaurants and shops were abuzz with activity, tourists were meandering through the streets and alleys; maybe the resurgence was coming. As we resumed our trek south, Jan turned to me and in a subdued voice said: “I’m a little nervous.” I didn’t answer. She said: “Should I be?” I nodded my head with a small bobbing motion, lips puckered to the side, eyebrows slightly arched and we all settled into a meditative state for the next twenty minutes. It was as though we were hypnotized by the newly surfaced road with its freshly painted bright yellow lines, which in some spots had over-lapping stripes due to the workers being off center the first time and trying to correct by going back over certain spots a second time, but not being able to erase the first one. It reminded me of those spinning discs with the black and white stripes that look like a cone tunnel and; you want to look away, but you can’t.
After a while, I looked up and there was the sign directing us to the project. I almost missed it due to the mangled curvature created by the front of a large truck. As we made the left turn, the pavement abruptly stopped and we were bounced awake by the pitted, remains of what used to be a smooth entrance. Up ahead was the large gate-house attended by three uniformed guards. They were involved in either a close discussion or a game of craps inside the kiosk. They saw the gringos bouncing up to the entrance, opened the metal arm, smiled and waved us through. For this each owner paid monthly dues for the “security”. We all had our passports out ready to show as well as a letter proving ownership of the lots. They looked at nothing; not a good sign.
As we passed through the gate we looked to the left to see the back border of lot number 23, the one Don and I were to build for ourselves. It was getting swallowed by the tropical foliage, but still beautiful. We continued on to higher ground where Jan and Reid’s ocean-view lot was located. The place had a deserted eerie feeling; parts of the hand-placed pavers in the road were sunken, pavers were missing in other spots. I wonder what they were doing with the monthly maintenance dues. There were 250 lots in the project and only twelve houses built – the same twelve that were there four years ago when they bought the lots. Although we didn’t see any people, the houses looked as though they were maintained. But still, getting out of the car was spooky. The air was quiet and still. As we walked down the road three abreast, Jan turned to me and whispered: “Jurassic Park.” I was waiting for the earth to tremble with the weight of the approaching teratosauris. We got back in the car to drive to the other lot, the side view mirror seemed to pulsate: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”. Before the movie who ever noticed that message printed on the side-view mirror?
The second lot was just as dead as the rest of the place. Jan’s normal cheerful chatty personality was hiding. In a subdued voice she said: Write a story about this; call it “Dashed Dreams”.
There wasn’t much to say; we didn’t expect the next stop, the beach house, to be any more upbeat. I knew what it looked like when I left for the states; Jan and Reid knew what my home in California looked like. The time had come; we were only minutes away.
As we turned off the main highway onto the dirt road, my stomach was clenched, my breathing shallow, and my blood racing. We pulled into the driveway and waited. Nobody came; no dogs barked. Again, it was too quiet. I used my key in the door-knob while my eye went to the splintered door frame. In my peripheral vision were the slashed screens with the mesh still flapping against the sill. Nobody came out although I was calling the guard’s name: “Chaco, Chaco! Es Carolina aqui.” The place was closed up tight; wooden shutters were latched over the windows, no lights were on, doors to bedrooms were shut, ceiling fans dormant. The stench over-rode the other senses; rancid cooking oil, mildew, and possibly something dead. By the time I found the guard asleep in the end bedroom on a bare mattress with my new tropical print bedspread with the vibrant colors folded under his greasy head, Jan had already investigated the other bedrooms. She pulled me aside and said: “None of the toilets have been flushed and they have all been crapped in; more than once. Disgusting! I flushed them all. I’m surprised they threw the toilet paper in the baskets. I know that’s what they do here; it’s still gross. But this? Bubbi, this is NOT your house. Let’s get outta here.”
I was busy opening doors, turning on fans, flinging window shutters open and focusing on getting some air flowing before assessing the actual robbery aftermath. A cursory glance surprised me; my bike and Don’s surfboard were still there. I ran to the kitchen and flung open the cupboard. My brand new blender was still there! Things were looking up; we could surf, ride a bike and drink margaritas. Alrighty, then.
When I opened the front door, there sat a dog; a dog I had never seen before was tied to a column. Rudy and Shorty Johnson aka Baby, the house dogs, were nowhere to be seen. Reid, being the animal lover that he is, started petting and playing with the dog, who had yet to utter a sound. Jan and I couldn’t help but notice how much the dog immediately took to Reid; so much so we named him “Horny, the Wonder Dog”. I gathered this was Chaco’s vicious guard dog he had spoken of. So far, the only ones he chased off were the two dogs that were supposed to be living there.
Chaco, who I had gotten used to over the few months, surfaced. Jan and Reid were seeing him for the first time. Reid seemed to take his appearance in stride while Jan’s reaction was more expressive; or maybe he was just too busy fending off Mr. Horny to notice.
Chaco had been in a crippling car accident some years back. I was told the sisters watched him limping up the beach over some weeks, until one day they beckoned him to their porch. With limited Spanish, they got him into the house where one of the sisters, a physical therapist, did a laying-on-of-hands massage and straightened him out. I don’t know if the toes on his right foot were severed due to the accident or leprosy; she couldn’t do anything about that, but his walking skills improved immensely according to them. He was wearing the plaid shirt he wore everyday with the two front sides tied in the center. His slicked down hair had enough hair gel, or maybe it was Vaseline, on it to render it immobile. I wondered if the cigarette he kept tucked on his ear smoked any differently.
Meanwhile, we had come to retrieve our belongings. There were piles of clothing that had been tossed out of drawers and closets; there was stuff strewn about everywhere that needed to be assessed. I didn’t know where to start. We found the liquor cabinet intact, so I poured three glasses of vodka and we headed down the beach to find the dogs.
I would deal with the stuff later.