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Losing my Self-consciousness

Shambling through paradise headerRecently, I had a dream where everything I had ever done in front of a mirror was broadcast for the world to see. In my dream, I was not embarrassed—I was actually promoting the broadcast to friends, saying things like, “Yes I really was flexible enough to do that to myself at one time in my life” and, “I really do use a Gillette razor to cut my nose hairs.”

There was a time in my life where this dream would have been mortifying—one of those dreams you awaken from with a sigh of relief. Yet here I was in my dream, boasting of my strange and occasionally bizarre actions. I give Costa Rica a lot of credit for my change in consciousness. Or maybe better said—my change from being overly self-conscious, which I was in my younger days.

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Not as I do

shambling through paradiseSome people have noticed that when it comes to talking about daily life in Costa Rica, I am not nearly the sardonic, sarcastic, overbearing, know-it-all, gringo wiseass I once was. Part of it is age—once I hit the second half century club, with over half my life now in the books, I began gravitating more toward thoughts and activities that make me feel good, and avoiding topics that make the choler rise inside.

But there is another reason. For the past few years, I have been in the business of selling Costa Rica. I bring people to Costa Rica, and like thousands of others here, I make a living doing so. Tourism is the golden egg, and Costa Rica has adapted to this reality nicely. When I first came here almost 30 years ago, tourism was not what it is now. Coffee and bananas were bigger money makers for the country. Sometime in the mid-1990s, this dynamic changed, and the natural beauty of the country itself became the meal ticket. The bandwagon is big, and I jumped on some years ago and never looked back.
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Quelling My Inner Fascist

shambling through paradiseWalking the streets of Quepos on a hot and hectic Friday afternoon, two voices fight for space in my head. One is the voice whose philosophy is simply ‘Live and let live’. It is the voice that brought me here almost twenty years ago, the voice of tolerance and tranquility, a voice best personified by a man lounging in a hammock, eyes slightly glazed after a short smoke and a long drink, beatific smile painting his face as he stares out at a panoramic Costa Rican vista.

The other voice demands attention every time I see someone double parked blocking traffic, or aggressively and arrogantly turning a one way street into a two way street, or most definitely when I see that emaciated little guy wearing the second hand traffic cop vest in the street in front of the bus station and the Super Mas supermarket, blowing his whistle and acting like he is directing traffic, unhindered by the local police. This other voice is not charitable or tolerant or even remotely me, yet it occasionally boils up unexpectedly, like Volcan Turrialba, emitting gas and noxious smoke, and almost but not quite erupting and sending the passersby running for cover.

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A Few Hours in the Life

shambling through paradiseI finished work, had a short smoke, and went straight to the beach. It was late afternoon, the tide was out, the rain had stopped, the waves were steady, but not of the monstrous tourist-killing variety. I am an avid body surfer, or as I like to joke with my surfer friends, a surfer without a flotation device.  I was in the water for close to an hour, rode some waves, breast-stroked in a meter of water, dove and flopped and stroked and floated—the ocean is better than any gymnasium once you learn to move with the waves.

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The Tourism that Dares not Speak its Name

shambling through paradiseI was seated in the bar of a downtown San Jose hotel, waiting for friends to arrive. An attractive young woman took the seat next to me. We exchanged holas. Then she told me that I reminded of her of that ‘galan’ in Hollywood, “como se llama?” I looked at myself in the bar mirror—with my recent haircut and beard trim, and the gray in my beard offset by my still dark head of hair, I ventured: “George Clooney?”

“Si, si,” she said. “Yorzh Cloney!” Then she offered to have sex with me for 100 dollars.

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I Need a New Signature

shambling through paradiseAnyone who has lived here long enough remembers the old days of going to the bank. There were no numbers to take, and few chairs in which to sit. Everyone stood patiently in line because the ability to stand patiently in line was in the DNA of most all Ticos. I have heard that the original Himno Nacional of Costa Rica even included a line that went ‘’esperando en fila con la paciencia de un santo’’ (waiting in line with the patience of a saint), before it was edited out for the sake of brevity.

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Saint Clownfoot

shambling through paradiseRight now, as you read this, someone in Costa Rica—most likely a foreign man—is walking down a street in agony. This man has just bought a pair of shoes from a local zapateria, and the agony is because they convinced him that all would be bueno if he bought the size 44 shoe for his size 46 feet. This man, exhausted after having visited a few dozen shoe stores, finally relented and forced his foot into a shoe meant for a man with slightly smaller feet. Every step produces a wince and the beginnings of a ripe and bloody blister.

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Patient 25

shambling through paradiseI was getting this occasional pain in my solar plexus, usually after eating. It was a sharp and constant pain, and the most comfortable position during these episodes was standing. I would check my pulse, which was always a steady 60 or so beats a minute. I would google cancers of the stomach, colon, pancreas and liver and read over and over the symptoms, and reassure myself that I had none of the above, while my midsection felt like someone was applying  pressure with something hard and pointed. Usually the pain receded within a few hours. One day the pain came and would not go away.

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