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A Man They Call “The Post Office”

39 Years as a Rural Letter Carrier

Pablo and Guardian

Pablo and Guardian

By Jack Ewing

Marvin and Carmen Espinosa were the first pioneers to settle the area around Hatillo. Originally from northern Panama they came to the area in the late 1920s. Working together they took possession of all of the land between Hacienda Barú and the Hatillo Viejo River, about 1000 hectares (2470 acres). Their nephew, Pablo, was born in Naranjito de Quepos in 1929 to their sister Magdalena and Euclides Zuñiga. Pablo was 12 years old when the family moved to Hatillo. His older brother, Gustavo, had acquired some property from his uncles, and Pablo worked with him cutting down rainforest and converting the land into pasture and farm land and tending to the livestock and crops.

War had been brewing for some time, but the incident that triggered the eruption of violence was alleged election fraud in the elections of 1948. The people who lived in Hatillo knew that there was an election, but didn’t know who was running, much less worry about the outcome. The government barely knew that Hatillo existed, so the people weren’t concerned with who ran the government. Likewise the war wasn’t of any special importance to them. It wasn’t their war. For that reason, when word arrived that the soldiers from San Isidro were coming, Marvin Espinosa called a family meeting. The men decided to hide out deep into the rainforest until the soldiers went elsewhere. Otherwise they would all be forced into fighting. The women were worried, but Marvin told them to calm down. “You have nothing to worry about. They’re not gonna take you to the war. When the soldiers come looking for us tell them we went with the soldiers from Quepos. They’ll believe that and can’t check on it. We’ll be back in about a week.” The men all headed for a heavily forested area called Dos Bocas.

Hacienda Baru

Don Pablo, now 87, doesn’t remember much about that trip except that the hunting was great. They had one firearm amongst them, a 22 calibre rifle they called a bala U, (U bullet in English). Only one brand of munition was available, and a capital U stamped on the base of each cartridge was the trade mark. The men camped in the jungle and hunted and gathered to eat. All the meat they didn’t eat was salted and carried home when they returned. Mostly they hunted white-lipped peccary, a type of wild pig. One incident that stuck in Pablo’s mind was when several of the group found themselves surrounded by a herd of about 100 angry peccary. Most of the men quickly climbed trees to escape the vicious tusks, but Marvin couldn’t find a tree in time and was pursued by several furious animals. He managed to escape by running around a large tree, first one way and then the other. Every time one of the peccary got too close he poked it with his machete and sent it scampering off in the other direction. Finally the herd moved away, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

After a week they returned home to the news that the war was over and that Don Pepe Figueres was the victor. They assumed they had avoided all of the fighting. But it wasn’t long before the losers, supporters of exiled president Calderon, with the help of the Nicaraguan government, landed troops in Dominical. Their idea was to retake San Isidro and proceed from there. Don Pepe’s troops conscripted the Espinosa clan to fight against the invaders. Pablo’s job was to load bullets into the machine gun’s ammunition belts. Gustavo was the gunner. His job was to try to shoot down the small Nicaraguan planes that occasionally flew over the area. In a short time Don Pepe annihilated the opposition and put an end to all resistance.

Pablo had been suffering from a couple of infected molars for some time, and, once the fighting stopped, Don Pepe visited Dominical in the company of a doctor named Terresita,  who had been caring for the troops. She pulled Pablo’s rotten molars, but the infection worsened, and his family decided to take him to the hospital in San Isidro. The doctors there took one look at his mouth and sent him to San Juan de Dios hospital in San Jose where he spent a week.

After the war the new government rewarded its supporters with jobs. Pablo’s short stint with Don Pepe, who was now President of Costa Rica, landed him the job of mailman for the route between San Isidro and Dominical, and north to Hatillo. He began work in 1949 with a salary of ¢60 colones per month. For 10 years he walked from Hatillo to San Isidro and back once each week delivering mail all along the way. Soon after he started people started calling Pablo “The Post Office” (El Correo in Spanish). After a couple of years he wrote a letter to Don Pepe and asked for a raise. The president doubled his salary to ¢120 colones per month.

In the late 1950s a crude bus service began operating between San Isidro and Platanillo. This was a God-send for Pablo, who was tired of walking 90 kilometers each week. He acquired a mare which he rode to Platanillo, and from there he traveled by bus. Don Pablo remembers a hair raising experience that took place during that period. Something spooked his mare who went wild, rearing, bucking, and resisting all of his efforts to control her. She ran down the trail at a furious pace until Pablo finally got her under control. Pablo returned on foot to the place where the mare had become panic stricken. Nearing the site he spotted a jaguar perched in a tree at the edge of the trail. He quickly returned to the mare which he had left tied to a tree.

In 1988 the post office asked Pablo to go to San Jose and work as a letter carrier there. Worrying that he would go crazy in the big city Pablo chose retirement instead. Having worked 39 years as a faithful employee of the postal service he had reached the age of 58 years. After his retirement Pablo kept active working on his farm located in the hills overlooking Hatillo. During his years delivering letters Pablo had worked on the farm on his free days, but now he could dedicate much more time to it. He and his sons raised pigs and cattle and grew some bananas, plantains, and cassava.

Early one morning on his way up the hill to check on the farm animals Pablo got an eerie feeling that something wasn’t right. A little farther along, in a soft spot in the trail, he found a large feline track. “That surely must belong to El Tigre,” he thought anxiously. Upon hearing the sound of pigs squealing he broke into a run. The jaguar had killed one of the pigs, removed it from the pen, and was standing over the half eaten animal. Pablo didn’t have a rifle with him, only a machete. He yelled and waved the big knife, but the large spotted cat held its ground. Finally it lifted the pig carcass as if it were a feather, and trotted off across the pasture and into the woods. Not wanting to lose any more animals, Pablo made a makeshift shelter and slept with the pigs after that. Several months later a neighboring rancher killed the jaguar, and Pablo returned to his own bed.

One day in 1994, around noon, Pablo was fixing a fence when a large yellow wasp stung him on the chest. He remembers having difficulty breathing before losing consciousness. Two hours later he awoke with a horrible headache and a feeling of breathlessness. Walking was out of the question, and Pablo realized that his only hope was to crawl to his horse which was tied in the shade about half a kilometer away. The going was slow but finally he reached the horse and managed to climb into the saddle. The animal knew the way and set out for home. It was dark when Pablo arrived home barely hanging on to the saddle. Family members helped him to the ground, and one of his sons flagged down a passing car which took him to the emergency room at the San Isidro hospital. After a thorough examination he was sent to the San Juan de Dios hospital in San Jose. There the doctors determined that the wasp sting had provoked a heart attack, and that Pablo would require heart surgery. “I don’t want anybody cutting on me,” he declared. “Without the surgery you probably won’t make it another two months,” replied the doctor. “So be it,” insisted Pablo, “but no one is taking a knife to me.” Fortunately the doctors got it wrong. Today, 22 years later, Pablo Zuñiga is alive and well. He still does some work around his house and gets his daily exercise.

Don Pablo Zuñiga Espinosa has been together with Doña Luisa (Tina) Zuñiga Torres for 53 years. They have five sons and four daughters, and he can’t remember how many grand kids. You can often find Don Pablo seated in a rocking chair in front of his house in Hatillo with his dog “Guardian” nearby.

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