I climbed out of the little propeller plane and back into the thick tropical heat. The air was heavy and instantly I was a half-sipped cocktail with the ice melted—weak and watered down with sweat. I wasn’t feeling like myself yet. The ear infections had taken me out of the game, forced me to sit on the sidelines for a weeks. Despite needing more time to recover, customs required that after six months in Costa Rica my boat either exit the country or be put in “bond”—which just meant some paperwork and that Swell be tied to a particular dock—so I had returned in spite of my condition. I found myself aboard Swell that afternoon staring at the piles and problems amassed in her belly and on her deck, not knowing quite where to start.
“Hey Liz, could you give me a hand?” Tim called down into Swell the next morning.
I gladly helped him handle the lines on a sailboat that needed to be moved off a mooring. During the process, my tasks for the day came up and I mentioned the prop zinc I needed to replace.
“I’ll replace the zinc,” he insisted. “No problem. I have a compressor and it will only take me a few minutes. Plus I just love being down there.”
Thanks to Tim my ears were spared the extra trauma and I was left to troubleshoot why the solar panels wouldn’t charge and neither my main engine nor the generator would start. Robert, the local wonder-mechanic, appeared that afternoon, so I sequestered his expert opinion on my problems. He had my little gas generator apart in less than five minutes. I peered over his shoulder asking questions and repositioning for a better view. Robert was a motor surgeon. His fingers moved nimbly around the little metal parts. He was soft spoken but when he did say something, it was usually important. He appeared slightly irritated by my fly-like presence at first, but when he recognized my genuine interest in learning he warmed right up. When Carburetor 101 was over, Genny was humming out a happy 120 volts again. In less than two hours, Robert had solved all my mysteries. He was brilliant! I decided later that it wasn’t fair for him to charge by the hour, considering it would have taken any ordinary mechanic much longer to diagnose and fix the same problems.
I showed up at Samoa del Sur, “Centro Turistico de Golfito,” to make arrangements to have Swell “bonded” before my time expired. It was owned and run by a French family that had sailed to Golfito twenty years prior and never left. While I sat at the big, boat-shaped bar waiting for the lady in the office, two men at my left were sharing a cheese pizza and talking loudly back and forth with the man serving drinks.
“You play foosball?” The one with glasses asked me in a low, serious tone after introducing himself and his friend as the ‘Lebanese guys.’
“Yeah, sure,” I lied.
“Okay!” all the men exclaimed at once. Moments later I was gripping two of the handles of the foosball table next to my new teammate, Claudio, the bartender and son of the French owners. By the intensity on their faces I knew this was no game to them. I’m one of those people less skilled at video games and quick hand-eye coordination sports. I can’t connect my hands to my brain fast enough, so in frustration I screamed and hopped up and down, jamming the rods back and forth when the ball came near my little plastic men. I was a disgrace to the sport. Team Lebanon beat the French-American duo in three out of five games to Claudio’s severe disappointment. I on the other hand came away quite pleased despite my poor showing. I knew I was going to like this place.
I moved Swell to the Samoa dock the next day, sad to leave Tim and Katy’s, but excited for the basketball court, pool tables, dart boards, and wireless internet that Samoa offered. It was apparent that foosball was way more important than maintaining the docks there, as there was no power and the rusty metal pilings screeched and hollered in protest of their neglect. They appeared as if they might break off with the next rush of the tide, so I set out a stern anchor just in case.
As the life trickled back into me over the next few days, I appreciated little things like the birds that landed to rest on the lifelines and the afternoon breeze and the energy to lift things, clean mildew off the ceiling, sing along to my music, and shoot hoops with the local kids at sundown.