Portrait of the artist as a pasty middle-aged gringo

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Monday, August 20

Random flowers. BIrd of paradise, perhaps?
Random flowers. Birds of paradise, perhaps?

Last night was my first sleepless night here, but it was more due to sudden inspiration than anxious tossing and turning. I was up until almost 3 a.m. uploading all of my entries thus far to the site. And I still awoke at about 5 a.m. so there will be a bonk at some point today.

While I’m getting a solid 3G connection here, it bogs down massively during prime time when everyone has a straw in the bandwidth and is sucking voraciously. In the middle of the night, my 3G becomes relatively fast and smooth, prompting me to take advantage of my computer’s tethered connection to my iPhone.

A drenching rain fell for much of yesterday, which helped break the heat that had been mounting toward noon. It was incredibly soothing, and as much as I hate to use this cliché, it was Zen. I found it difficult to not just sit there drifting off into the raindrops.

I spent most of the day reading and writing. I’m deep into Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918, and have no idea how the human mind can survive the things Barthas describes in his amazing account of the Great War. Many don’t survive it, crumbling mentally as the shells explode and gore flows out of the trenches. But many find a way to persevere. As a counterweight, I started reading Jack Ewing’s Where Tapirs and Jaguars Once Roamed: Ever Evolving Costa Rica, which was recommended by Jeff, who noted that his wife, Laurie, loved it. She’s a fantastic writer and journalist, so that was good enough for me. Jeff and I drove over to Domincal so I could pick up both of Ewing’s books about Costa Rica (the other is Monkeys are Made of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica). Ewing first came here in 1970 when he was just out of school with a degree in animal husbandry and intention of working in the cattle business. He gets hired to assist in bringing cattle to Costa Rica for sale. Ultimately, he ends up settling in Domincal and founding Hacienda Baru , a national wildlife refuge and lodge. Jeff and I poked around a bit there after buying the books, and I definitely intend to return before leaving.

To say the two books are polar opposites would be an understatement. Or perhaps not. When Ewing arrived in Costa Rica, it was being pillaged for its natural resources and the jungle was under siege. Thanks in part to his visionary efforts, that was thwarted. Or at least slowed. So there is a sense of impending apocalypse in both books. But the Barthas book is just mind-numbing. He managed to survive the major slaughters of the war, which he refers to accurately as charnel houses. I’m about to enter the section where he details the horrors of Verdun. Wish me luck.

Another random flower, this time to purge thoughts of Verdun.
Another random flower, this time to purge thoughts of Verdun.

My writing thus far has largely been self-obsessed blogging about this trip, but I’m starting to think about form and structure for a novel I’ve been plotting for decades. It’s Pittsburgh based and focused on the rise and fall of steel. The Homestead Strike is in there. And Tall Tale hero Joe Magarac. And maybe a few ghosts. But the world keeps shifting. The plot line was focused around an unemployed Geek who was spit out in the first great Internet meltdown in 2000, or Dot.Bomb, as it came to be known. The Geek returns home from the Bay Area to Pittsburgh, where he retreats to an hold house in Homestead that his grandparents left him in their will. As he’s tearing out the lathe board to install Cat 5 cable for Internet (this was before wireless changed everything), he finds a trove of letters that date bak to the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike, which triggers the rest of the action. But as time has passed and the nation has been Trumped by populist hysteria, it seems major reworking is in order. I really hope I can get myself to do that during the next few months. On the plus side, there’s not a whole lot else to do most days. My usual vices and distractions are far away, and I’m feeling something that I can only describe as clarity emerging. But there’s still a lot of static and frequent cranial power outages, so we’ll see how that goes.

On the plus side, I’d vowed to write at least 1,000 words a day, which I’ve had no problem hitting. A letter to Mom and Dad alone clocked in at 1,600. If I can keep this pace, I should produce about about 80,000 or 100,000 words. while here. That’s a hell of a lot more than I was doing before I jumped on that Delta jet and headed south.

One more gratuitous flower picture.
One more gratuitous flower picture.

I spent this morning talking to a helpful American Airlines agent to undo a business-related trip back to the States that I have to take in October. They moved the agenda back a day, negating the itinerary I’d purchased before leaving the States. I don’t want to charge the company I work with for my travel back to the States, but they kindly agreed to pay the change fees on both that trip and the next leg that will take me to my destination.

Last night, I sat here atop the hill, watching a cloud-strangled sunset recede into blackness over the Pacific. Suddenly, I noticed a firefly. Then others. So there are fireflies here, which I enjoyed immensely as I pecked away at my keyboard. White puffs of cloud clung to the trees as the day’s rain instantly evaporated, ready to start the cycle again.

I still haven’t gone off the property. I’m thinking I’ll do that tomorrow, when I’m better rested and will be needing a few minor supplies. I’m also hoping to find a spot where I can poach a wifi connection to do more bandwidth-intensive tasks. But there’s no hurry. I have food. And I’m in paradise.