Because my Spanish is under construction, I rarely get to meet people who actually live in the places I visit unless they work in tourism. I'm hardly isolated though. As expected, I'm meeting plenty of characters in hostels. I'd like to commit a few of the most interesting to memory by writing about them here.
1, 2: Keira & Henry
They're a very agreeable couple from South London taking a journey before they start university. A complementary pair, Keira is lively and boisterous while Henry is reserved but warm. They taught me some proper English slang, like piff. Unfortunately, health problems cut their travels short. When I met them in San José, they were biding their time until their flight home. I wrote a bit more about them in "We're All Rather Posh".
We met in Quepos and hiked through Manuel Antonio National Park together. He's a self-employed mechanic from the Netherlands. He does lucrative business assembling big industrial machinery around the world. When he was younger, he toured Europe and North America as a professional kickboxer. One night we found ourselves in a bar with signed pictures of George W. and H.W. Bush on the wall. Soon after we arrived, some of the employees started doing woodwork with a bandsaw in the next room. Do not go to Wacky Wandas.
She is the youngest of the Flores Clan at eight years old. She's whip-smart, studying English, Mandarin, and French at school. She knows many card games and is particular about the rules. If you need to pass, you must say, "paso." Saying "No tengo un corazon," - while more informative - is not in keeping with the rules.
He runs a coffee shop in Monteverde that I patronized twice. He studied business at university in Costa Rica and perfected his English by living in Northern Minnesota for a year. The big bucks are in high-end hospitality, so he worked with swanky hotels for a while. But he tired of "the rat race" as he moved into his '40s and decided to run a boutique café. A voracious reader, he talked to me at length about Moore's Law and artificial intelligence after teaching me about coffee.
She grew up in Buffalo, NY and recognized her adventurous heart at a young age. She first taught English in Thailand in 2004. Now she teaches TEFL courses. She's lived in Perú, Guatemala, and now Costa Rica. We met on a bus to Boquete. We were looking out the window when she said, "I've never seen this area before. I couldn't live without the feeling of seeing something for the first time."
7: Señor Ruiz
I took a tour in Boquete, Panamá of the Cafe Ruíz coffee plantation. At the processing center, the tour group met Señor Ruíz himself, still lively at 93 years and proud to show off his empire. From the way our tour guide didn't know what to do, it seemed like this wasn't normally part of the tour. I think Sr. Ruíz was just feeling nostalgic that day as he pushed through the plant to show us the first machines he ever bought and insisted that we put our noses into his hand that were full of beans he had scooped out of the drying area. He wasn't thrilled when he saw the aftermath of a tractor accident that had happened the day before though.
I met him briefly over breakfast at Luna's Castle hostel in Panama City. He's got a glorious bushy beard. When I asked him what brought a Scotsman to Panama, he gave an answer that slid off his tongue after having said it ten thousand times: "I'm running from Canada to Argentina." He averages 42.4 Km a day ("but I need to pick up the pace") and he made it to Panama in nine months. He doesn't have a support crew; he just pushes his gear along in a baby stroller. While running more than a marathon every day for a year seems extreme, the body adapts quickly. He pinched his tummy to show off a nontrivial paunch that's been growing since his body has gotten so efficient at running.
9, 10: Carlos & Diego
I was surprised to actually meet Panamanians at the bar run by my hostel in Panama City. Carlos and Diego have been friends since primary school. Like me, they recently graduated university. While they went to great pains to tell me that they love their country, they're frustrated by lack of opportunity and applying for grad school in the "first world." Diego is trying for Montreal and Carlos for Cologne.
I wonder how people remember me? Maybe "That American chap with the bushy black hair who said he was working on a programming language or something like that."