At first, the town seemed quaint. It was actually rather quiet during the day. I didn’t know how many people were living in this small Costa Rican town, an hour outside of San Jose, but I was definitely one of the only blonde girls in the whole area. Gawks and stares and phrases mumbled in Spanish. I could only guess they were saying great things about me, so I gave them a big old American wave and an “OH-LAH” right back. I stuck out like a sore thumb to begin with.
There were twelve of us on that summer Spanish Immersion Program to Santa Ana, Costa Rica. I had already been to Costa Rica two years before with family, and absolutely fell in love with the culture, the food, the people, the language. Well, as much as a 17 year old can experience in a luxury resort with her family. This trip – this trip was going to be a serious “immersion.”
We all were placed with a local host family to live with for the next five weeks. While I struggled with making small talk with friends’ parents back in the states, I had no idea how difficult it would be to make small talk with a stranger, in her house, in Spanish. I was terrified with every syllable I managed to get out of my mouth – painfully aware of how slow I was speaking. My family was patient, kind and helpful – and the best damn cooks I’d ever had the pleasure of sharing a meal with.
By our second night, the word had surely spread that the gringos had arrived. Yet again, the gringos infiltrated their quaint town, with their Sunday markets and children’s masses and one tiny pub that closed by 10 pm. Yet another summer of listening to our obnoxious, drunk voices that rang through the rod iron security gates that surrounded each house as we stumbled back to our houses.
While we were told Santa Ana wasn’t a “party” scene well in advance to our trip, I was quite shocked at the turnout at the pub, El CoCo, on our second night. Had they known I was coming? All this just for me? Oh guys, you shouldn’t have.
Wall to wall, every seat, every inch of the floor, was completely and utterly packed. I’m fairly certain the entire town, including children all crammed into this one pub. And why was this Tuesday night in May so special? Costa Rica was playing Mexico in a soccer match. Soccer game? Futbol? Nevertheless, it was quite the scene, as twelve gringos, drunk off vino caja, (because obviously we pregamed), stumbled into this Ticos only pub.
Me, being one in four blonde girls, in heels, towered over the locals to a ridiculous degree, and I immediately became a target. My friend bought us a round of cervezas, and I zig zagged my way through the crowds of seated residents leaning around me to watch this ever so important game. My friend turns to me to hand me the ice cold, perspiring, slippery bottle of Corona. And as if everything was moving in the slowest motion possible, I watched as the full glass bottle of beer left his hand before mine was ready to grasp. I felt the wet, coldness of the bottle slip through my palm and crash, splatter and spray across the floor and over the locals.
What once was a loud and boisterous bar filled with hoops and hollers and chants and praises, was now a dead silent stare of death. Directed right at me. All of a sudden the slow motion picked up, and then everything moved so quickly. I remember there were chairs moving, people yelling in Spanish which I later learned were derogatory curse words and my gringo friends rushing me to the second floor. It was safe upstairs, no locals, no futbol, no hardwood floors. I had successfully admonished our entire group to the second floor.
And that’s not even the worst part.
After being pushed upstairs, we discovered a type of sugar cane/vodka shot, which I couldn’t even tell you if it’s legal. So after a few of those and a few attempts at creating loaded coronas, ending in my roommate, Michelle, soaking us all in corona, rum and lime, we decided to try our hand at going downstairs and making nice. Nothing could go wrong!
I was the last one down the stairs, sheepishly standing behind my newfound friends, hoping no one would notice that I was, indeed, the blonde girl in heels who dropped the full beer all over the floor stopping the continuous flow of watching the most important futbol match of the year. Luckily, a nice older woman, who was probably so senile she forgot the whole incident, started speaking to me in Spanish. At this point, I was fairly inebriated, and I felt confident in my speaking abilities. I felt really confident.
I was so confident that now I had two women listening to me. Then three. Hell, I had a whole table surrounding me. Now, I was catching the attention of the other students who came to listen. I was going on and on about the whole incident beforehand. The same one I was trying so desperately to ignore. I decided to go into full detail, in Spanish.
By the end of my recounting of the story, I knew I was getting some confused looks. A few women even turned away when I took a sip of my drink. What could be so offensive about sipping on a beer? I’d been doing it all night. Did they know I wasn’t legally allowed to drink in the US? Does that even matter here? I began to panic.
I mumbled a quick “gracias y adios”, and stumbled onto the dance floor where a few of the local men were teaching us some dance moves. From what I recall, there was a huge crowd, cheering me and this middle aged Tico on while we were performing an elaborate dance. From what I was told, there was a huge crowd laughing at me trying to pick up my own feet.
Finally, the night was coming to an end. Our group was told by the school to never walk alone at night or even as a group past 10 pm. It was definitely past 10 pm, but we took our chances and dropped each other off at our respective homes on the same street, and said goodnight.
I fell asleep with a huge grin on my face. I managed to explain myself after that horrible accident, in SPANISH nonetheless. I danced the night away with impeccable dance moves. I practically led that guy! And I made it home safe. Buenos noche, Kelly, Buenos noche.
I awoke, sticking to the sheets from no A/C, eyes squinting from the sunshine seeping through the thin shades. Checking my alarm clock – 7 am. Good god. Thinking to myself, “well last night went well. Little mishap, that happens. I wonder what else…” Stopped dead in my tracks. Immediately, a word came to mind. Immediately, I knew what massive mistake I had made.
As I spoke to the table of women the night before attempting to explain myself in Spanish. I had repeatedly told them I was so embarrassed. “Estoy embarrasada,” I said. “Estoy muy muy embarrasada.” Immediately, I knew in my head that “I’m embarrassed” was actually “Tengo verguenzo.”
And what I had actually told them, what they actually had thought until the day that I left that quaint little town five weeks later, was…
…as I took a swig of my beer.
How does one recover from an entire town in a foreign country thinking that you’re a pregnant, drinking gringa?
You just don’t.