Thursday, December 9, 2010

Late is better than never

I am not quite sure why it has occured to me while sitting in San José to write about something that happened in September, when I was still living in Immenstadt im Allgäu, but I am going with it. I just hope I am able to remember most of the funny anecdotes.

This story basically begins with Thomas and a few of his close friends trying to explain to me a tradition in the Allgäu when the cows come down from the mountains for the winter and there is a big celebration. I understood the basics: it was referred to as Viehscheid, it was a weekend long event, and it would include large amounts of beer consumption. In short, it sounded like quality entertainment if nothing else.

It must be said that around this time Thomas mentioned the idea of me writing a book about being an American living in the Allgäu. I entertain the thought of writing a book from time to time. In this case, however, my first response was that I simply didn´t have any material to write about. Ok, so it is different there when compared to Munich or Berlin where you can easily get around with no German skills at all; and yes Allgäuers are quite proud of their cheese and beer and everything else that Thomas claims they "invented". Little did I know at the time that the Viehscheid was about to provide me with new cultural insights to write about; and by that I mean funny stories about drunk men in leather pants, cows wearing wreaths around their necks, and farmers drinking beer from cowbells.

The festivities began Friday night with a party, where all the bartenders were teammates of Thomas (read: free drinks). Long story short: I believe the sun was rising when we were falling...asleep that is. I woke up around 9 am to the sound of cowbells and cow hooves making there way down our street to the big tent where the drinking, I mean celebration, was about to begin.

Thomas had to go work serving beer for six hours that afternoon, hangover and all. I, on the other hand, took my time getting in on all the action. I stopped by the tent about 3 pm to find a traditional Bavarian band playing and farmers, families, and people young and old sitting around long tables with benches enjoying their liters of beer. Of course, it wasn´t something I was used to seeing every day. I still laugh thinking of those huge farmers wearing their short leather pants, but besides that everything seemed to be as expected. Beer maids were running around, people were laughing, and there was still plenty of beer and sausage bread rolls left for everyone.

Then I came back a few hours later. It was the same tent with a far hazier atmosphere. This time around people were dancing on tables and singing. I saw one big dude who looked like he had been hit in the face. This is also when I saw someone drinking from a cowbell. As you can imagaine, a variety of people, even the biggest guys, were no longer capable of walking properly. I guess that is what happens after drinking beer for 8 hours. What a celebration. Yay cows for not falling down the mountain!?

I stood around enjoying the people watching and talking to Thomas and his friend, also Thomas. Soon enough I was approached by a quite old and quite drunk man who started talking to me. At this time, my German was good enough to usually pick up words even from the thickest of Bavarian dialect, but I had absolutely no idea what this guy was saying. Then again, I don´t think he knew either, but he kept on talking and laughing. All the while, he was trying (and sometimes succeeding) to touch my face. Apparently, he liked me. Of course he meant me no harm, so I just smiled and eventually he was on his way.

I didn´t stay until the bitter end that night, maybe I would have a few more stories to tell if I did. I know if I ever did decide to write a book, I would most definitely attend more events like these. I would also be sure to make it to the Viehscheid early enough to see who takes care of all these cows while the farmers and their families (and everyone else in Immenstadt) give their beer muscles a workout. How they keep the cows separated and where they all go remains a mystery to me.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It rains Pavones

It was about a week ago that I left San José for Golfito, which is a small town on the Pacific coast near the border to Panamá. It used to be a hot spot for banana plantations, but it´s easy to see upon arriving that those days are long gone. The forest that is behind the town seems to be reclaiming it´s ground, but nobody seems to notice.

I didn´t go to Golfito to stay in Golfito; however, I also didn´t really know where I was headed. I knew I either wanted to take a ferry to Península de Osa and visit the famous Corcovado National Park, or go further south to Pavones, famous for (supposedly) the longest left hand break in the world. I was looking forward to see a part of the country that I didn´t have the opportunity to visit when I lived here. The fact that this part of the country is also a bit off the beaten tourist path was also enticing.

I arrived in Golfito to a torrential downpour, which isn´t really a good sign when considering trekking across a rainforest where river crossings are involved. So, because of that I decided to head towards Pavones. I found the bus with no trouble and started chatting with a local. He informed me that the bus probably wouldn´t be able to make it all the way to Pavones, but there would be a colectivo (shared taxi) to take us the rest of the way. "Sounds ok," I thought to myself. After all, there has been more rainfall this year than usual and dirt roads in backwater Costa Rica are not very reliable.

I wasn´t really looking for an adventure, but I quickly realized that I had found one when I saw a sign that read 32 kilometers to Pavones and we were maybe traveling at a speed of ten kilometers per hour. Hmmm, maybe this wasn´t the best plan? But too late now, pura vida.

So, literally more than three hours later I finally arrived in Pavones in a more than run down 15 passenger van. I still have no idea how we made it through all the mud and pond like puddles. I quickly found a place to stay, where I might add I was the only guest. At that time, I was too tired to be that concerned about the fact that the only public transportation to leave was that colectivo van, which probably only left when and if the driver thought he could make it out of town. I settled in for the night and so did the rain.

I woke up quite early the next morning to find that I was one of the only tourists there, the beach was full of debris, and there were no waves in sight, only rain clouds. I had a look around the town, which took about ten minutes, and then got something to eat. By that time, I realized that I wanted to leave, despite the fact that I had just arrived. I decided first to inquire about the colectivo. I asked a variety of people: the girl who worked at the supermarket, local gringos, the hostel owner, etc. In Tico fashion, I got a different answer every time, which led me to the conclusion that nobody knew what the hell was going on. Someone told me it depended on if they fixed the road, another person told me it depended on the rain and another person gave me the cell phone number of the driver. Hmmm?

A couple hours later, I finally ran into a couple of tourists who were talking to a guy about getting a 4x4 taxi to the border of Panamá. Although I didn´t need to go to the border, I did want to get back to the main highway. After some contemplation, I decided to go with them.

This turned out to be a two hour adventure, including a small river crossing where the driver got out of the car and waded across first just to see how deep it was. He also insisted on stopping and asking everyone about the condition of the roads and which way was the best to get to the main road. Once again, everyone had something different to say, but the general conclusion was that with four wheel drive anything was possible. 

It was a bumpy ride to say the least, but I made it to the main road in time to catch a bus to Río Claro and then another bus to Uvita, north of Golfito. It was already dark when I arrived in Uvita, but it wasn´t raining and that seemed to be a good sign. It indeed was.