After finally escaping the ceaseless San Jose traffic, the cab driver lets me out at my hostel. Possessing no energy to question him, I pay for the absurdly overpriced ride and hop out with my bag. At this point the excitement of finally arriving is too much for a few dollars to affect me. The hostel is on a dark street across from a park and it is about midnight. As the cab driver takes off down the closest alleyway, I ring the doorbell outside the courtyard and anxiously await acknowledgment. After a few long minutes the hostel attendant greets me at the gate. I quickly head to my bed and pass out for what feels like the shortest five hour sleep of my life. As dawn cracks, I munch on a plain tortilla and make my way to the bus station for my trip to the coast.
This time my taxi driver doesn’t understand a single shred of english and naturally, we zig zag through San Jose visiting half a dozen bus terminals before finding the right one. I grab some plantain chips and snag the last seat on the bus. It doesn’t take me long to realize that what would be a 2 hour drive back home is quickly quadrupled due to the slow, winding roads swerving through the rainforest. We finally roll into a strange town and all I can see are hostels, surf shops and dust, everywhere. Not quite the main strip I had imagined. As I step down from the bus I spot a couple drunk Canadians with devious looks on their faces and realize these are just sunburnt versions of my friends. I’m finally here. They surprise me with the first celebratory drink of what would soon become four months worth. Apparently we had plenty to celebrate. Soon after we make our way down the road to our rental and the place is incredible. A full beach home all to ourselves, including a crisp view of the palm covered pacific beachfront. My friends point me to my bed, which is basically a piece of foam. Cheers to showing up last. Once fully settled in the guys take me to meet our landlord. I trudge down the twisting steps and set my gaze upon what looks like a Spanish, surfing hulk Hogan. With a firm handshake he smiles and says to me “welcome to my country, my name is Diego. Pura Vida!”.
We spent the rest of the night listening to Father John Misty and sipping on Cortez with our German neighbours. Everybody came to the consensus that a trip to the local pub was in order. Although at this point I can barely keep my eyes open, my response is a resounding “I’m in”. We join the flow of locals into the bar and blend in to the tourist corner for awhile. When it seems obvious enough that the evening has come to an end, we follow the departing crowd and inevitably join the road party going on outside. Immediately I notice a small but intimidating local kid walking directly toward me. I have no idea what to make of his glares and gestures, but soon understand he’s looking to push drugs on me, with persistence. Before I have a chance to re-affirm how uninterested I am, two more locals confront the young tico and do it for me. A couple moments go by and suddenly I was surrounded. At this point I was prepared to empty my pockets on the spot. To my surprise, instead of the mugging I was expecting, the locals actually pull aside sketchbag number one. After a little bit of violent shaking, they affirm with him that I’m Diego’s new tenant. I see the fear in his eyes as I receive what seems to be a truly genuine apology, and that’s that.
The shrieking of howler monkeys and a rum induced hangover wake me early in the morning, and coffee is a must. I walk down to the store to buy my first groceries: eggs, cereal and the biggest avocado I’ve ever seen. When I get back to the house, I notice the same three locals from last night hanging out with my landlord. To hide my discomfort I make sure to give them a wave and they call me over. Casually, they mention the encounter from last night and all burst out in laughter. One of them says to me “you don’t worry about anything brother, you’re staying with Diego”. Slapping my shoulder, Deigo roars with laughter and the four men stroll down the hill.
When I get back to our unit my friends are finally awake and I fill them in on the strangeness of my first night. It took us all a few minutes, but the realization hits simultaneously, Diego is a big deal around here. Suddenly everything about him makes sense. The wealth, the random excursions, the friends and the lifestyle. He was the mafia, on a big scale. What that meant for us was not what you might expect. Instead of being fearful, it basically meant total immunity. Nobody in town wanted to mess with any business of Diego’s, and that literally meant us. For the rest of our trip we relished in the joys of the town without a single ounce of worry. We were never bothered by a single local on land or in the waves, and were never charged the implicit “gringo tax” that most tourists unknowingly pay. We were the tenants of a man who was probably scarier than we could imagine and surprisingly, it was pretty comforting.