Last night, the circumstances let me reflect on the pros and cons of not drinking alcohol, besides feeling better the next day and saving money when going out. This is my tale.
My talented American friend Elizabeth was asked to guest star for an up-and-coming local reggae/ska band, and a lot of UPEACE people showed up to support her and hear her sing. She was great, the best singer in the three bands that played that night.
The venue was a restaurant/bar called La Cueva (the cave) in the neighbouring town of Piedades de Santa Ana. There were four or five bartenders behind the bar and a fair selection of booze, beer and softdrinks. Two of my friends had already gotten their orders of Gin and Tonic and Vodka Tonic, respectively, so I was fairly confident that I could order a tonic water. I didn't feel like anything too sweet.
So I asked a girl behind the bar. The band was playing so loud that we both had to step on something and lean towards each other to hear anything at all. I started by asking for 'agua tónica'. I had noticed before what was written on the bottles in the supermarkets, and I was proud to remember the word in Spanish. The girl, on the other hand, understood nothing. So I had to explain.
- Es como un Gin Tonic, pero sin gin. No gin.
- Quiere un gin?
- No, sólo tonic. Agua tónica.
Her face was bursting with incredulity, so I stepped back down, smiled patiently, erased the conversation with a waving gesture and asked for a grapefruit soda. Problem solved. Or, as it was, postponed.
The next couple of hours I ordered club soda with lime and salt. It worked perfectly, and the staff were attentive enough to offer me alternative salt shakers when they saw me bang them against the table. I listened to music, talked to people, and even played some games of Costarican-rules pool (the 1 and 15 have assigned pockets (!)) with peers and locals.
After a while, my (non-alcoholic) spirits were high, and as an act of optimism and a belief in human beings, I ventured again. I carefully avoided the girl from before and asked a guy behind the bar. After a very similar exchange of words and a very similar lack of (mutual) understanding, he went to the fridge, talked to another guy, and the other guy now brought me a bottle of club soda. I wagged my finger and tried to repeat to the new guy that I wanted an 'agua tónica'.
The guy stared through me with absolutely no facial expression, and I decided to go straight to the top. I had noticed that all complex drinks (anything including more than one ingredient) were made by one specific woman, so I asked the guy to let me talk to her. Por favor.
He nodded, and went to talk to her. The drinkmaker came over.
- Hola, Quiero un tonic. Agua tónica.
- Gin Tonic?
- No no. No gin. Como un Gin Tonic, pero solo el refresco. Tonica.
She nodded with a notable air of reluctance and went to the back. I crossed my fingers and waited. After two minutes, the drinkmaker herself walks up to me behind the bar and presents me with a tumbler with tissue paper around it and a straw sticking out of it. My optimism reared its happy-go-lucky head again. With confidence, she presented the product.
- Gin Tonic.
My frustration was now in the red. I kindly declined the freshly made classic, this lasagna of alcoholic drinks, and decided on two things. One, I wouldn't order anything more at this bar. Two, they probably wouldn't serve me any more at this bar. It was late anyway, and I wasn't thirsty. How much easier it would have been if I could have just ordered a normal Gin and Tonic ...
About half an hour later, my housemate/friend/landlord Álvaro arrived at the bar. He'd been at a wedding with our Egyptian friend Marina, and both were in a good mood. A very good mood.
As the crowd started dissolving, I realised that my most logical choice for a ride home was drunk. I thought drunk Álvaro would probably get offended if I took a cab or went with someone else, but I was ready to do it. Until Shannon brought up a solution that hadn't even crossed my mind. Why didn't I just drive? Of course. I hadn't touched a drop of alcohol in 15 days. So we quickly persuaded Álvaro to give me his keys, and I drove Maj, Marina and ourselves home through the deserted streets of Piedades and Ciudad Colón. When we arrived, Álvaro was very grateful, and I felt good and responsible. Not only did I drive us all home safely, but I also managed not to harm Álvaro's uninsured Honda.
I'm starting to get used to this non-alcoholism.
Friday night. I'm in the touristy beach town of Puerto Viejo. Next to me are Bryan and Elizabeth, two of my UPEACE friends from the United States. We're at a crowded outdoor bar called Tex Mex watching the Costa Rica-Brazil football match. Rarely have I wanted a beer more than at this very moment.
Fastforward to later the same night. I arrive at the bar-cum-nightclub Mango in the same town. I have just finished a chicken snack and see Elizabeth and Bryan going bonkers on the dancefloor with a plethora of blonde German backpackers and drooling locals with afros. I don't dance like this in places like this. Not sober anyway. I want a drink.
Fastforward to Monday evening. My roomie Bridgitt is Canadian and has invited all the Canadians from UPEACE over for Canadian Thanksgiving (yeah, they have their own). My other roomie Álvaro and I have been to PriceSmart to buy turkey roasts, and the kitchen is swimming in mashed potatoes, gravy, salads, vegetables (including a lot of corn), bread, crudités, and desserts. We're having almost ten people over for dinner, and everyone's drinking wine and beer. I need a drink.
It's now Monday night, almost 1 am on Tuesday. It just became October 11th. And I still haven't had a drop of alcohol since October 1st. But boy, have I wanted to.
So far (2½ days in), it's going well. Friday was my last night of drinking which I celebrated by first drinking a lot of Nicaraguan rum at a bar with my wonderful co-students from the Media programme (MPCS), then going to an Asian party at my friends' house which has been dubbed 'The Party House'. Before Friday I was wondering how it would be to drink until midnight and then stop. As it turns out, I fell asleep on an extra bed at 11:30 pm so I never found out.
On Saturday I went to the mall with the 'party house' crew. Got a haircut. Bought a T-shirt. Then went to a large supermarket where I almost accepted free samples of both wine and whisky. Close call.
In the evening, Diego from Ecuador (who not only is joining me for OcSober but is also a fellow CISV'er) and I tried out a Costa Rican non-alcoholic beer (or malt-based beverage, as they call it) called Kaiser. We got used to it pretty quickly and had a nice long night with a little bunch of people playing games in David's poolhouse and trying to stay quiet so his landlady wouldn't get mad.
On Sunday, Maj organised a triple-surprise party for three of our co-students who are born not on the same date, but on the same day. It became extremely chaotic for several reasons: Maj organised it for Saskia originally and didn't know about Elizabeth and Waan's birthdays being the same day. Then she expanded it to Elizabeth, but Elizabeth already knew about Saskia's surprise, just not that it was for her, too. Through an intricate web of deception, chaos and choir practice, we eventually managed to let Saskia see the birthday sign before we yelled surprise, and Saskia opened the door for Elizabeth and then closed it on her again while Elizabeth was saying happy birthday to her. We ended up having a very good time, and the Danish traditional cake-persons that Maj baked were a big hit.
Today, it's now almost 2 pm and I haven't gotten out of bed. This week is off for the MPCS class and I'm going to spend a good chunk of it not doing anything productive. The plan is to go and see sea turtles lay eggs in Tortuguero next weekend.
Had Kaisers on Sunday too - starting to like them. Thinking about bringing them to school next week and doing a non-alcoholic beer-bong at lunch, just for the hell of it.
My Year in Costa Rica
I'm studying an MA programme (Media, Peace and Conflict Studies) at the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica 2011-12. This blog is about my experiences here, in and out of school.