May 2012

Blog, Central America

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Missing Persons Case

By 10:00 on Friday morning, I had given Sheena up for missing.  I had never lost my wife in a foreign land before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do.  Do I call the hospital?  Issue an Amber alert?  Do I press the S.O.S. button on our crappy SPOT Tracker?  The last option was a sure fail, as the tracker stopped working three weeks into our trip and hasn’t started working again, even after receiving a new unit from the company.  How the hell did this even happen anyway?

We had arrived in Atenas, Costa Rica a week earlier, and were given the keys to our friends’ vacation home.  The house sits high on a mountainside outside of town, up an impossibly steep dirt road, in the middle of a small coffee plantation.  We had arrived after four months of solid overland travel and were frankly ready for a recharge.  A vacation from the vacation, if you will.  For the first several days of our stay we lazily slept in, lounged about in our pajamas, went for swims in the pool, prepared extravagant barbecued meals, and ate breakfast high on our second story breakfast nook overlooking the San Jose valley and its surrounding volcanoes.  In short, we acted in the same way that rich actors must behave during long periods of no work.  I came to see myself as a young Clint Eastwood.  I started wearing my sunglasses indoors at night, just like rich and famous people do.

By the time the first week of our stay came to an end we were ready to change out of our pajamas and host our first guests, our fellow Pan-American traveling friends James and Lauren from Home on the Highway.

James and Lauren just happened to be passing through Atenas, and would be picking up Lauren’s mom and sister from the San Jose airport the following morning.  A worry-prone mother, fearful for her vagabonding daughter’s wellbeing had joined the picture, so the stage was set for some catastrophe to happen.  The only thing missing was a catalyst; some terrible idea that would set Murphy’s Law in motion.

“Let’s go for a hike!”, Sheena exclaimed to Lauren.

“Oooh yeah, we can go early so I can be back in time to pick up my mom from the airport!”, Lauren said.

The shit had been thrown.  All we could do was sit back and helplessly wait for it to hit the fan.

Lauren’s mom would be in at 11:15 AM, so they decided to leave on their hike at 7:00.  Two independent sets of neighbors had vouched that the loop would take an hour and a half, and that there was no possibility of getting lost.

“There’s no way they could have gotten lost!” Darlyce said in self defense, after the girls had become hopelessly lost.

Initially James and I were comfortable with the idea of a morning lady hike.  This would give us a chance to sit around and do manly stuff without female distraction.  Crimp wires with greasy wire crimpers, organize heavy things, open bags of tortilla chips without any notable struggle, sit backwards in chairs.  Bro time.

The first inkling that something might have gone terribly wrong came when the ladies failed to materialize by 8:16.  Sheena and Lauren are both fitness aficionadas.  They do things like running and P90X workout videos.  But they don’t do the workout videos in air conditioned living rooms like those sissy ladies back home, they do them in the jungle after they spent the night sleeping in their car.  They’re tougher than nails and they don’t do hour-and-a-half hikes in an hour and a half.  They do them in an hour and fifteen minutes.  By 8:16 they were assumed to be missing in action.

James and I took silent note of this fact, but continued opening bags of chips and organizing heavy things as though nothing were amiss.  Only namby pambies sit around worrying about where their wives are.

9:30 came and went, and it was clear that something had gone terribly wrong.  Could have been anything; kidnapping, hit and run, drive by shooting, starvation.

“Come on ladies”, James said nonchalantly as he loaded their things into their 4Runner.  The clock was ticking, and their predetermined airport departure time was only 30 minutes away.  I tried to busy myself by rearranging liquor bottles and eating really spicy salsa without wincing.  Every once in a while I would walk outside and stand on the property wall overlooking the road.  Not because I was worried or anything, but because standing atop a high rock wall made manliness exude from my every pore.  This was Bro Time, after all.

“If they don’t show up by 10:00, we’re going for a drive”, James said.  This was good.  We would spring into action and swoop in to save our ladies from whatever ailed them.  We would drive this hour and a half loop and see why the heck they’d been gone for over three hours.

In the 4Runner we silently drove the circuit in reverse, climbing steep mountain roads in four wheel drive, keeping a keen eye out for distressed women sulking about.

“So…what should I tell Lauren’s mom if I we don’t find them and I have to go to the airport myself?”, James asked.

“Just tell her…uh…” but nothing came to me.  I can usually B.S. my way through just about anything, but this time I came up empty handed.  We continued bouncing along in tense silence.  By 10:30 we’d seen no sign of our fitness queens, so James dropped me back at the house and high tailed it to the airport.  He would have to tell Lauren’s mom that her daughter was a missing person.  Like that Locked Up Abroad show on TV, only worse because we didn’t even know if they were locked up at all.  Only one thing was certain: they were abroad.

After thinking about what I should do – Amber Alert, S.O.S. button, et cetera – I decided to drop by the neighbor’s house.  Darlyce could surely shed some light on the seemingly hopeless situation.

“There’s no way they could have gotten lost!” She said. She hadn’t shed the light on the situation that I had imagined she might have.  We went inside and her husband Alex made some calls to see if anyone knew where they might have ended up.  In the end, we hatched a plan whereby I would scour the mountains with our gardener as a passenger in his gardening truck.  In time, I was told, we might find them.  Somehow.

The picture Sheena took at the height of being lost

By now I was coming to terms with the real possibility of my untimely death by strangulation that would ensue upon my telling Sheena’s father that his daughter, too, was a missing person.

As Diego the gardener and I walked to his truck, we noticed a small red car in front of our house.  We watched as Sheena and Lauren emerged from the back seat.  No blindfolds, only the grimace of shame that can only be the result of a near international missing persons fiasco.  The little red car swung out of the driveway and into the road.  It was a taxi.  Our fitness queens came home in a taxi.

The fitness queens in the taxi

“Oopsies!” Sheena said, totally downplaying the seriousness of the situation.  “We got SO lost!”

“Yeah, SO lost!”, Lauren added.  “We took a wrong turn, but we were talking so we didn’t realize it for a VERY long time.”

“Yeah, and then we turned around and started going back, but then we didn’t know where we were, and then we took another wrong turn” Sheena said.  “After a while we knew we’d be late, so we started running downhill as fast as we could. And it was SOOO steep!  But after like 10 minutes we realized that we were running the wrong way.”

“Yeah, we started running through a bunch of leaves, and we didn’t remember any leaves, so we knew we were VERY lost”, Lauren said.  Things were worse than I had imagined.

“Finally we decided to ask for help, so we looked for a house with a car.  We thought maybe they would bring us home.  But when we told them we needed a ride home, we couldn’t remember where we lived.  We didn’t even know the name of the town!”  Sheena seemed to think that this was all very funny.

“So a taxi came and got us and we told him we lived in ‘San something’, so he started driving us around.  Finally Sheena started to recognize stuff and she was like, ‘oh, oh, I REMEMBER this!’  And that’s how we got back here!”

Back at home, you could cut the shame with a knife

James called me from a payphone as the plane was touching down and I was able to tell him the good news.  When Lauren’s mom and sister met him they asked where Lauren was.  “She’s not here, but she’s okay” was his response.  The perfect words to keep a mother from worrying.  Disaster averted.

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May 2012