I slide the heavy plastic napkin dispenser – I swear I’d seen the exact same one a thousand times, like the entire country went and made a standard national napkin dispenser with the same dimensions, cut from the same half-opaque plastic, with the same little slot on the bottom that drops individually wrapped toothpicks – on top of the flimsy paper menu, looking to plan its escape and hitch a ride on a passing wind gust.
Leaning on the balcony railing, I stare past the empty chair across from me and look down at the park below where a few of my friends lay on their backs in the grass by the fountain. They’re looking up at the dark clouds hanging low overhead.
Opposite the fountain, near some paving stones and what looks like a tiny raised stage, a handful of burly, tanned men are struggling to dismantle a set of temporary bleachers. They throw the iron piping supports into a growling diesel flatbed that sputters exhaust in an impatient idle. They take their time, yet still are careless with their handling of the set pieces. The tubes clang together, punctuating the quiet afternoon.
Still beyond the park, are a myriad of tourist-y shops crowding with gawkers. One is built to look like an authentic teepee, complete with sour-cane and palm leaf roofing that the indigenous Bri-Bri Indians would use. Along the short stretch of the park, directly opposite the street the restaurant sits on, is a whitewashed Cathedral whose steeple towers over the rest of the town. It ought to have been attached to a different church though: it was much too big for the tiny house of worship it was part of.
Ornate streetlamps flicker to life out of sync as the mountain grumbles beyond the church and the foothills, bringing early nightfall. The breeze reaches out from the mountain, billowing passed the hills and the church, zigzagging between the out-of-towners in their khakis and “I love Costa Rica” paraphernalia, slinging cameras and snapping pictures of the most commonplace things. It crosses the park, politely sidestepping the construction workers, stopping briefly to mix with the exhaust from their truck. It cuts through the ring of teenagers by the fountain, scales the storefront below, and blows over the balcony.
The breeze is flavored now with mild smoke and cinders, reminiscent of a July-evening barbeque cooked over a proper charcoal grill with just a hint of mesquite that your father swears makes the meat taste momentously better. The smell sits somewhere in the back of my nose until I cough over the sulfur that came along with it. I almost don’t notice when my companion steps back out onto the balcony. She stands over me, next to the table, opening her mouth to speak, but the growing wind gathers up all of her auburn hair and rudely casts it in her face.
“Ready to go?” I ask.
She wrangles her hair with a Scrunchie lasso before replying, “Yes,” with a giggle.
I toss a few thousand Colones – local currency, I honestly can’t be bothered to explain the exchange rate – onto the table, think about it, then move it beneath the safety of a salt shaker, before rising.
“Come on, we want to get to the falls before dark,” one of her curls has gotten loose and absolutely refuses to behave.
I take one last look at the town before descending to the streets below.