Posted by: davepidgeon | April 18, 2009

Strangers until we meet

 

A view of the Pacific Ocean from Nacional Parque Manuel Antonio.

A view of the Pacific Ocean from Nacional Parque Manuel Antonio.

We finally met Trent Hammond on Monday.

 

He stood knee deep in the green ocean, Costa Rican sun blazing down while he radiated California coolness. He wore sporty sunglasses, a gray ballcap turned backwards and an Adidas soccer jersey while a sharp, bearded chin contained a constant smile. He married his soul mate on April 4, like Alison and I, and with Jamie, his wife, Trent had chosen to honeymoon in Costa Rica.

Trent talked about his small, Fresno-based winery he was trying to create. He called it “Bumbling Brothers Winery” because the business several years ago had not started well.

Alison and I stood in the ocean with him. We had an epiphany.

“You aren’t Trent Hammond, are you?” I enthusiastically asked.

He grinned with that California radiance. “Yeah,” he affirmed, a little surprised to be so clearly recognized deep along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

“We knew you before we met you,” I said.

*     *     *

Our stress level spiked. Alison and I had no sooner exited airport customs in San José like a breeze when men began shouting at us from a corridor of car rental booths. “Senór, do you need a car?” they all shouted. We tried to ignore them and push past the crowd of newly arrived tourists, but we all were suddenly greeted at the exit to the sidewalk by a frenzied mob. A window separated the tourists from a shouting host of Ticos on the outside sidewalk, some with signs printed with names pressed against the glass. Tourists like Alison and I scanned the signs for a recognizable name.

Alison during the flight from Miami expressed some anticipation about seeing for the first time a driver holding a sign with her name on it in an airport. Neither of us had ever enjoyed such a travel experience.

We reached the exit, where more tourists and Ticos had gathered. Shouting ensued. Taxi drivers called out. So did confused tourists. The scene was loud and bright with morning sun.

One man, a Tico with a dark mustache wearing an official white uniform shirt and a badge called out to me. I ignored him as if he was just another tour guide trying to sell some business, unable to distinguish him from the others. The man called to us several times. Alison finally answered him, and he asked if we had a voucher for a driver. We did. We came expecting a transfer from the San José airport to our hotel, the Grano de Oro. Alison handed the man our paper voucher, which he scanned. He pulled out a cellphone from his pocket, dialed a number he found on the voucher and began to speak hurried Spanish to someone.

Beginning to distrust all the commotion around us, I backed myself and our bags against the wall of the airport. While I wanted to be a trusting person, I didn’t want anything stolen among the chaos, and I wanted to scan the crowd from the outside to see if I could discover an escape.

A man suddenly appeared next to the other who held our voucher. I now saw the man’s shirt indicated he was an airport employee. The former was a mustachioed middle-aged man, tall with bushy, silver eyebrows, pale blue eyes and a small pouch for a belly. He appeared as anxious as the rest of us. He held a sign that read: “Trent Hammond. AA Flight 971.”

The middle-aged man pointed to me and asked: “Trent Hammond?” His Costa Rican accent was thick. Sweat poured down the side of his wrinkled face.

“No,” I replied.

“Fairbairn,” Alison said to him, using her maiden name under which she booked our trip through a company called Costa Nica Tours. She had expected to see “Fairbairn” on somebody’s sign, but in typical Fairbairn fashion, she showed no sign of distress thus far. She was more calm than me.

“Not Trent Hammond?” the man said, looking at his sign, then at us. “You two suppose to come on a later flight.”

He waved his hands in frustration and to indicate everything was okay. Before Alison or I could say anything, this man and another, the third stranger to take great interest in us, grabbed our luggage and began quickly crossing the busy airport street to a parking garage. Alison and I sprinted behind. I looked at my wife. She flashed concerned eyes. “Follow our stuff,” I said. “Don’t lose sight of it.”

“Is okay,” the mustachioed man said. “Thought Trent Hammond was coming on this flight. He comes later. You here now. I take you to your hotel, Grano de Oro.”

Turned out this man, whom we came to know as Jose “Crazy Joe” Selero, was indeed our driver, and his boss at Costa Nica Tours had accidently switched our arrival time with whoever Trent Hammond was. And so Crazy Joe darted down the highway into Costa Rica’s capitol city and to our hotel to begin our honeymoon.

*   *   *

 

Alison, right, with Megan from Wales at the Pacuare Lodge's zip line tour.

Alison, right, with Megan from Wales at the Pacuare Lodge's zip line tour.

Seems you meet a lot of fascinating people when you travel through Costa Rica. Alison and I met at the Pacuare Lodge a mother-daughter team from Florida. The mother lived life deeply but had a noticeable melancholy, a woman wholoved her grown children so much that when her thirtysomething daughter had broken up with a long-term boyfriend, she said why not travel abroad to help get you over it. I can still see the daughter in her flowing violet dress holding hands with one of the Pacuare Lodge river guides as they walked the river shore under a full rainforest moon. There also was the Wales teenager we met at the lodge who had come to Costa Rica to study, in her own words, “how to save the world.” Later in La Fortuna, Alison and I at the pool bar met a middle age couple from Maine. Why after 20 years together they never married will forever remain a mystery to us, but her blue eyes ignited beneath her straw hat as she tossed questions at Alison about details of our wedding. “I have ideas, too,” she said, as if her companion would finally propose right then and there.

 

Then, of course, there was Crazy Joe. Even as memories of Costa Rica fade, we will always have stories about Crazy Joe. But those are for another time because this post is about meeting Trent Hammond.

Days after Crazy Joe had mistaken us for Trent Hammond at the airport, Alison and I joked about it. We wondered who Trent Hammond was and what he was like to talk to. I imagined the GQ type with gelled hair, perfect tan and a habit of using male face moisturizer based on the sound of his name – Trent Hammond, suit model. And in a country of several million people with millions more in tourists and a thousand places to see and a thousand things to do, crossing paths with Trent Hammond never entered our minds.

*   *   *

The morning of Monday, a week after Alison and I arrived in country, the two of us hopped onto a bus that took us to Iguana Tours in Quepos for sea kayaking and snorkeling. The transport stopped at several hotels to pick up other adventure seekers before dropping six of us off at a levy, where yellow and orange kayaks baked in the sun and on the rocks. There were three couples – one from Scotland, another from the U.S. West Coast and us.

We set out across the mouth of bay where the Pacific poured in with a fiftysomething Jamaican as our guide, a man so joyous, talkative and full of trivia and stories that I wondered if he was the Crazy Joe of kayak guides from Quepos. Our destination was a small reef, then a gray sand beach mostly deserted, and so we made our way in three tandom kayaks with our Jamaican practically singing as he talked.

The Pacific rolled. As Alison and I paddled, I couldn’t stop turning the color of the greenish-turquoise ocean. I’ve been cursed with a stomach better suited for land, and so as we paddled to the reef to watch schools of yellow-striped fish through snorkel masks, and then finally to the beach, I became as sea sick as I’ve ever been. I paid little attention to anyone else, feeling as if I’d rather drown than take another minute of nausea.

Finally, though, we reached the shore, and so I stood with Alison and the couple from the West Coast. My feet were steady, but the horizon kept waving up and down in my head. Sickness would simply not dissipate.

The four of us inevitably turned toward the inevitable questions about home and life tourists in Costa Rica ask one another – Where do you live? And what do you do there?

“I make wine,” the rugged, scrawny young man said with an easy smile, appearing more at home in sandals, shorts and a T-shirt standing in an ocean far from home than an Armani or Vesace two-button jacket with photographers snapping his picture.

Alison suddenly made a connection. She recalled Crazy Joe once making reference to another customer who was a winemaker. “We talk about grapes,” Crazy Joe had said. “He use da small ones. Oohhh God, best flavor.”

“Did you use Costa Nica Tours?” Alison asked.

“Yeah,” he grinned. “We have this crazy driver who’s been taking us everywhere, and he won’t stop talking. We enjoy him, but man he loves to talk.”

I caught on to what Alison was thinking. “You aren’t Trent Hammond, are you?”

“Yeah,” he grinned. “I am.”

Suddenly, I was enamored by the California laid back air about him and his wife. I wanted to be from Fresno, too, drunk with enthusiasm for owning a small winery. Then maybe I would have felt just a little less sea sick.

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Responses

  1. […] Part 2: “Strangers until we meet” […]


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