Dear readers, if you didn’t grow up in Nashville in the 70’s, you might not get the reference above. I remember watching Hee Haw before the news every night, with the overalled crew leading into their series of one-liner jokes with that song… “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all! Wooaaaahhh….”
In truth, I’m enjoying this final month in Bahía Drake very much, and I want to avoid any whiff of “Man this place shows me how good I’ve got it”-ness. Instead, I want to share some events of the last few days with the whistling-in-the-dark, laugh it off smile that the Hee Haw crew brought to tough times (integrating Nashville schools, the end of the Vietnam war, the south’s Democrat/Republican identity crisis). Leaving aside for a moment what a distorted, one-sided picture of the Nashville self Hee Haw created.
Three nights ago our air conditioner broke down. Panic ensued. Before you laugh (and do laugh, please!): any southerners out there, try to place yourselves in your own shoes, only in 1930, before window-mounted air conditioners became ubiquitous, or before the advent of central air conditioning, back when we were kids in the 70’s. It’s tough, really tough. I recall coming back to Nashville in the summer of 1988 (an eventful summer to be sure), when the air conditioning in my father’s VW Rabbit failed. And I lived in Antioch, while all my friends lived in the posh West End. A 30 minute drive in 100 degree weather. Friends, I loved you a lot, to go through that.
Here in Drake Bay, there’s no weather channel to tell me how hot and humid it’s going to be. But when the sun peeps over the Cecropia trees at 6am, you know it… 95/95, that’s degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity.
Earlier that day, Emilio, the dueño of our casita called and asked mysteriously, “Como va el aire?” I responded, a note of fear creeping into my voice “should something be wrong?” But he demurred. Then, when the machine crashed later in the afternoon, I thought “this guy’s sick of us, and is trying to chase us out of here!”
In truth, I think he was asking because Alberto, the engineer that fixes all the hotels’ ACs and commercial gas ranges, and who does all the town’s residential wiring, was in town for a short time. Turns out that Drake is a bit like the old west: like the traveling circuit judge, dealing justice out every month or two, so too Alberto makes the rounds of the Bay, troubleshooting. With temperatures soaring every day, you’d think there would be a lot of compressors to fix. Really, though, aside from a few luxury hotels and a vacation rental or two, AC is in short supply.
Still, Alberto is a busy guy, but he had a little time to set the wheels in motion to bring our temperatures back down into the 70’s. Between bouts of wrestling with the colegio’s electrical system, Alberto dropped in and diagnosed the problem, with my sweat dripping on his shoulders as I looked anxiously over them. He phoned in an order to Palmar Norte’s electrical supply house, had a relay driven from Palmar to Sierpe, and one of Sierpe captains brought our relay in to Drake by the next boat (the next morning, to my inadequately veiled disappointment… but there are only two boats a day).
So, we were up and running again by the following evening! A minor miracle here, for problems to be sorted out so quickly and completely. I do make an effort to keep these troubles in proper perspective, however. Again, almost nobody has air conditioning in Drake. It’s just not part of life here, but the heat very much is. Our AC unit costs $500, plus installation and maintenance, and adds perhaps $30 to one’s monthly utility bill. Not too costly for such luxury, by my accounting, but the per capita income in Costa Rica is just shy of $12,000. Couple that to the fact that the cost of living is pretty high, here in Drake. There’s no ‘gringo tax’ at the grocery store, and our bill (~$150/week) is not a whole lot cheaper than home. Most people save a few colones by having staples delivered by truck from Palmar, but we’re talking tens of dollars, not hundreds. Then again, too, Eduardo the verduras guy drives through twice a week with the best greens (and Dorado filets on Mondays!), and he’s not cheap. This week’s bill: 2 melons, 2 pints of strawberries, a pound of potatoes, a few mangoes, onions, peppers, and carrots: $40. So rural Costa Ricans make little money, but still pay Whole Foods prices.
In the end, I’m just grateful to have my AC back, regardless of how everyone else is coping with the heat. But the beautiful thing is that everyone, extranjero/local, dueño/worker, does have access to the best refrigerant of all… the rio Pijagua! I wouldn’t trade 10 daewoo nanosilver units for a single late afternoon spent lounging in the river’s shady pools, where my daughter discovers hundreds of tiny fish in her favorite swimming hole. And while the 15 minute walk is dusty and hot, the deep green that overhangs the slow stream shades tapirs as they wander in search of fallen guavas (Ines and I found fresh tracks on the bank yesterday). Those pleasures refresh the heart, and we can all share them, while the forest lasts.
Of course, the day after the AC was back up, our electricity was shut off as a result of a billing glitch. As the fans that keep our air moving slow, and the candles I bought as an outage precaution burn down, and as the batteries on the tablets and laptops peter out, I’m thinking hard about that river. But that’s another story…