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Sunday, January 29, 2023

When the Best Monkey Falls from the Tree

There is a Costa Rican expression my wife likes to use when I am overconfident about a situation: 

El mejor mono cae del zapote. 

The best (or most agile) monkey falls from the (zapote) tree is a rough translation. 

Here are a couple of examples of when she uses it– I am leaving to cycle on one of our not so safe highways. She tells me to be careful. I respond that I have cycled thousands of miles in Costa Rica without an accident. 

El mejor mono cae del zapote. 

We are at the beach and I am going in for some wave-diving and body surfing. She tells me to be careful with the currents. I tell her I am a strong swimmer and have been playing in the ocean since I was six years old. 

El mejor mono cae del zapote. 

Not long ago I was on the bus from Quepos to San Isidro del General. Riding the bus is something else at which I can claim expertise. I have logged thousands of bus miles over the years here, and take all necessary precautions when riding. My backpack is always stored between my legs. I usually ride in an aisle seat so I can position my legs in a way that they are not grinding into the back of the seat in front of me. I keep my pockets empty on the side facing the aisle. I stay awake the entire ride. 

On this Friday afternoon, I had two seats near the rear to myself. Backpack on the floor between my legs, which were happily manspread, a necessity on many Tico buses, whose seats are spaced with people under 5 and a half feet tall in mind. The bus cruised the Costanera in the mid-day heat, stopping frequently to let people off at the various palm plantation villages. Then on down the coast, taking a left at Playa Dominical and going up and over the 4,000 foot El Alto. I have driven or ridden this route hundreds of times in my life, yet it never gets old. I enjoyed the scenery, while occasionally checking my phone for messages. I was wearing a pair of shorts with 2 pockets on each side, and had my phone and my passport (which I was carrying only because I had needed it for a legal matter earlier that day) in the lower pocket on my left leg, while my right leg dangled in the aisle. 

When we arrived at the San Isidro bus station, I arose quickly and was right at the rear door exit, when the man in front of me suddenly dropped his sunglasses and some coins. He got down on the floor and below me I saw a balding head with a combover job. His cheap sunglasses were missing a lens. He scrambled on the floor, pushing hard against my left leg with his shoulder while reaching beneath a seat. I tried to step over him but he continued pushing against my leg; then he suddenly gathered everything and stood abruptly. People behind me were pushing and I was now pushed against him. He exited down the steps, me right behind him, annoyed. Another Juan Vainas from the campo, stumbling his way in the big city. I told him to buy a new pair of sunglasses– “Comprase gafas nuevas,’’ I muttered.

I stepped around him and walked toward the taxis a few blocks away. I had gotten right to where the church faces the central park in the center of San Isidro, when I heard a woman calling in English–’Excuse me, sir!’ 

I stopped. She was a young morena I had seen board the bus alone somewhere near Dominical. “Is this yours’’ she asked. It was my passport. I asked her where she had found it. “On the bus,’’ she said. 

I reached down to my lower left pocket and it was empty. My cell phone was gone. I walked back to the bus station wondering if my cell phone might still be on the bus. But of course, It wasn’t. 

In the bus station it all flashed before me: That clumsy, incompetent campesino, flailing on the ground and pinning my leg while reaching under the seat– he had nailed me! I was the mark, the dupe, the sucker at the table. He held my leg, while an accomplice just behind me, cleaned out my pocket. Or maybe his sleight of hand was so good that he acted alone. And the young woman–could she have had something to do with it? If so, why would she chase me down to return my passport. I knew what had happened, just not exactly how. But it had happened to me, Mr. Street smart, veteran international bus rider, who always took all precautions……. 

El mejor mono cae del zapote.

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