This is one of three stories I’ve sold about the time I spent volunteering on sustainable development projects in Costa Rica with an organisation called Youth Challenge International.
The village I lived in, Caño Rito de San Jorge de Upala, was about 40km from the nearest road, generator, water-pump, and telephone. Our lone technology was a shortwave radio with a solar-charger that only worked for about an hour a day.
Strangely enough, I loved it. Me, Mr. Technocrat, having the time of my life digging latrines and mixing concrete with shovels, making gravel by smashing volcanic boulders with hammers.
Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of returning with a solar-powered laptop/sat uplink rig, living in the middle of the jungle, technologically plugged in without living technologically.
The Customs official at El Coco International had marvelous teeth. He displayed these to good effect as he smiled and nodded encouragement at Leo, whose Spanish was hesitant, ungrammatical, and frequently nonsensical.
“Estas aqui triar mi hermano,” Leo said. You are here bring my brother.
The Customs official showed his teeth again and shook his head. “Estoy aqui que enceuntrar mi hermano,” he corrected, then, in English, “You are here to find your brother.” His English was unaccented and fluent.
“Yes! You speak English!” Leo dropped his heavy suitcase and smiled for the first time since deplaning. The airport was high-ceilinged and airy, with sweating tile mosaic on the walls, but the humidity still choked him, even in the cavernous building. Sweat beads chased each other across his neck, down the back of his pants.
“Of course I do. Your Spanish is very good,” the Customs Officer lied politely, “but perhaps we can finish this more quickly in English. You are here to find your brother. So, where is he?”
Leo fumbled a creased note from his wallet and smoothed it out on the veneer of the desk.
The Customs officer turned it around and read it. He considered the note and Leo’s passport at length, then reached for his stamp.
“Welcome to Costa Rica, Señor Kaufman. Good luck to you.”
The Customs officer showed his teeth again, but spoke gravely. “They’ll collect your landing taxes at the next desk.”
Leo picked up his bag, shoved the note and his passport into his fanny pack, and struggled out to the taxis waiting in the tropical heat.