“Playa. Por la noche!? Es no bueno.”, says el hombre on a bicycle after we ask where to find the path to the beach. We just got off the bus from San Jose. In our backpack are the beach essentials in order of importance: beer, tequila, camera, towels. Kicking back on the beach has been priority numero uno since we landed. But now . . . Now we’re not so sure.
“We must have walked past the path,” I tell Sarah, who is trying to glean more details on why the beach at night is such a bad idea.
“Es la playa más peligrosa por la noche?” she asks, translating for me (“I asked him if it’s dangerous to go to the beach at night.”)
“Ah,” I say, and decide to chime in. I mean, I’ve watched Univision since I was a kid. I can Spanglish my way around a conversation. I turn to the man, who is now following us in a slightly creepy way and begin to “help”.
“Por que? Como te llamas? Donde esta el mal hombre? Ou est la plage? Me llamo James” Sarah asks me what I’m doing, and I shrug my shoulders. Something in there must have made sense. In fact, I’m pretty sure I threw in some French. Call it the whack-a-mole approach to speaking a foreign language.
El hombre gives me a look that is usually reserved for watching drunk people: A sort of sad, but sympathetic glare. He thinks for a minute, and then gently tugs at my backpack as though to show me what could happen. “Ver? Ver?”, he says, his extremely white teeth catching glints off my headlamp as I return the gaze he gave me a moment ago. So, I’m thinking, if I go to the beach at night, very weak people will try to undress me?
“Oh, people will try to rob us.” Sarah says, and my eyes light up with sudden comprehension.
“Bandidos!” I exclaim.
I’m not sure if it was the word itself or the fervor with which I shouted it, but something made our friend erupt with laughter. Meanwhile, we’re still walking back down the dark road to our room. He had asked us a few times where we were staying, but we pretend to forget the name. Up until this moment, we were very sure we were about to get mugged. Two gringos walking down a dark road in a foreign country with backpacks asking for directions to the beach. Good thinking. How about I just wear a shirt that says “ATM. Free Cash”.
But something about the mood changes after he starts laughing. He keeps repeating the word, “bandidos! Ci, ci!” and chuckles more each time he says it. By now, he’s got us giggling, and Sarah shoots me a “let’s make a break for it” look, at which point his phone rings, and he stops in the road. Sarah and I duck into the nearest establishment (AKA, the strangest Italian restaurant you’ve ever seen--more on that later). When we look back down the road, it’s empty.
“Bandido?” Sarah asks. “Where’d you come up with that?”
“Univision.” I answer.