The year was 1957. The place was Playa del Coco, a resort on the NW Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Liberia Airport, 100 km to the East, is where the Sansa Regional airplane had deposited me at the end of a mystery flight from Boca de Toro in Panama. Honestly, I had made my fair share of fumbles in my relationships, but my dissipation in Panama was on another level. My hosts in the Canal Zone were making good money and were intent on spending it recklessly. Like them, with the stack of dollars they insisted on showering me with, I threw all caution away. My career in Central America was a crunching car crash in slow motion.
I have no recollection of what motivated me to get on the flight and only a faint memory of boarding a mini-bus at the airport and being deposited in front of a wooden structure on stilts that jutted out over the water on a beach of crushed coral. I’d been tanning white rum for days in Panama. I kept topping up with miniature bottles of whisky on the flight North. By the time I checked into the pension I was entirely stoned.
The lady, late twenties with African genes, in Reception accepted my Bank of Scotland cheque book with only a raised eyebrow. I had been practising my Spanish for the preceding week or two and I informed her haltingly that I intended to have a wee lie down before exploring the possibilities of adventure in Playa del Coco.
“Es muy peligroso aqui, la noche, Very dangerous here – at night,” she said.
I left for my room with the profound feeling that good things were beginning to happen. The bedroom was clean and comfortable with a big, creaking wooden fan installed in the ceiling. Clean sheets enveloped me. Hombre, I was extinguished.
Sometime later, maybe around four in the afternoon, I come to and see through one scrunched up eye that it is snowing outside. This strikes me as being strange as the room temperature must be at least 80 Fahrenheit. The average daytime temperature in this tropical beach resort, I had read, is 78 degrees Fahrenheit with little variation from season to season. I know all about snow and decide to take no chances. I rummage in my backpack for appropriate winter gear. Over an all-in-one set of long johns I wear two long-sleeved sweat shirts, Goretex insider jacket, similar outer shell, waterproof trousers and heavy leather lace-up parachute boots. I clatter down the stairs and stop to chat with the receptionist who keeps looking at me as though I am a cockerel. All I have to do to persuade her I’m normal is pull some Spanish phrases out of my memory bank, phrases that will wipe that look of horror off her pretty face.
“¿Que tomas?” she says. “¿Ron, Whi’ky?”
“Scotch, por favor.”
She hands me a glass of amber coloured liquid.
“Perone,” I croon softly. “No tengo ningun problema para hablar en este momento.. Soy un hermitano de las montanas de Escocia! Excuse me. I don’t have any problem speaking to you now. I am a hermit from the mountains of Scotland.”
The receptionist is speechless. It’s obvious to me that she doesn’t understand her own language.
“Hace mucho calor, It’s very hot,” she says leaning across the counter and touching my bulky Goretex jacket.
She’s right. But I’m going to explain.
“Está nevando, It’s snowing,” I say.
I’m already as high as I was on my arrival.