Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wacky Wanda's Bar Puerto Quepos

Wacky Wanda's bar in Puerto Quepos Costa Rica
Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica is a ramshackle town of glacier-sized potholes, loud bars and a few cheap hotels. You almost expect to hear shots ring out, a saloon door open, and a body come flying out backwards on to the street.

One afternoon I wandered in and out of the small shops before stopping in for a beer at a local watering hole. It was a smoky hell where a group of loud Americans had gathered to watch a football game. As I drank my beer a foghorn continually sounded out from across the cavernous room, and when I stood up to see who it was I was surprised to see that it came from a handsome woman in her sixties with platinum blonde hair.

That night, I went for dinner at a taverna serving Mexican food, but the contents of the damp burrito I was served was something the kitchen help might have scraped up off the sidewalk as a result of the many dogs passing by, so I pushed it aside. I smiled at a young woman smoking a cigarette at a table nearby. I paid for the burrito and left and was wandering down the street looking in shop windows when I heard footsteps behind me. I stopped and stepped closer to examine the lingerie in the window in order to let whomever it was pass.

'This is a really good shop. It's my favorite.'
I looked around and saw that it was the woman from the restaurant.
'Oh, yeah.'
'You should really go in there tomorrow when it’s open. It’s European.'
We looked back at the window.
'Would you join me for a beer?' she asked.

At first I thought she was gay because I was surprised she had asked me to join her for a beer. We walked over to the next street where there were some bars.
'Is this okay?'
She stopped in front of a dive with bored men slumped over their beers.
'That looks okay,' I pointed. 'I love the lights. Wacky Wanda's? Have you been there before?'

Wacky Wanda's bar in Puerto Quepos Costa Rica
We sat down and ordered two beers. The walls were lined from ceiling to floor with tiny, white Christmas lights, and the strips went across the ceiling from one end to the other, creating a warm glow. Old beer signs with fake waterfalls hung on the wall and the overhead speakers cranked out Creedence. A few fellows hunkered over the bar looked up as we came in.

'My name’s Claudia by the way. I’m from Germany.'
We shook hands. She got out her cigarettes and lit one and dragged the ashtray towards her and we talked about Costa Rica and traveling and her job as a ticketing agent for some airline out of Heidelberg.
'I don't know how much longer I'm going to stay with the airline because I've been there for five years already and I'd like to travel to the....'

With a crash the door suddenly banged open and slammed against the wall and a platinum blond woman of about sixty clasping a leopard-skin purse stumbled in and started shouting.

'HALLO EVERYBODY,' she yelled. She looked around and spotted us and held out her hand.
'What the.......HALLO Blondie! I'm Wanda! Welcome to my bar!'

She was louder than a fart at a church service, and just as difficult to ignore. She went behind the bar and mixed herself a drink, yelled 'hallo' to half a dozen other people then joined Claudia and I.

'I'm 63 and I'm proud to say that I'm the proud owner of this little bar. Let me introduce you to everyone.' She looked over at the bar.
'See him over there?' She aimed a red fingernail towards a young man about thirty with long, dark curls.
'HEY YOU'' she yelled. Young dude almost fell off the bar stool as he turned around.
'He's a son-of-a-bitch but I love 'im. He's my son.'
'He's your son?'
'Well, he's not my real son. My real son's in America. I've adopted him.'

Wacky Wanda's bar in Puerto Quepos Costa Rica
Wanda and her son then bantered back and forth with one another at a decibel that would have deafened an elephant from thirty feet away. I covered the side of my head.

'He's an abortion, you know.
'Thanks, Mom,' he said.
'What a thing to say,' said Claudia laughing.
'Well, it's true. He's a closet homo, he don't know it yet, but he's a lovable son-of-a-bitch.' She winked at him.
'I love him.' She blew him a kiss. 'He knows I love 'im.'
'He's gay?'
'Yeah, but he don't know it yet, like I said. I'm trying to tell him. He just hasn't accepted it yet.' She roared and slapped the tabletop.

'You see that guy over there?' She was referring to a 300-pound Nutty Professor look-alike that was sitting up at the bar with a "Joe the Plumber" butt crack and a pimp cap pulled over his eyes.

'That's Fat Jack. He's my protection around here. So don't get in his way. And see that fella over there? That's Edwin the Croc Dundee, the original. Never mind that Australian piece of shit, I forget his name, that starred in that movie.'
'You mean Paul Hogan?' I said.
'Yeah, that piece of crap. He's a nobody.'

After she finished her drink, Claudia stood up and said she had to leave because she had a flight in the morning, and as I was tired, I left with her.

'I'll be back tomorrow for sure,' I said.

'People just come and go around here,' Wanda said.

accordion players in Wacky Wanda's bar in Puerto Quepos Costa Rica
I got a kick out of Wanda so the next night I returned. The place was rocking with Doug, his brother Jeff, their cousin Ed, and another friend Joe, who had arrived that morning from the States. Every year they came to Quepos to fish and drink beer at Wanda's, they said, because they loved it there so much. They asked me to join them and pretty soon Jeff, being a magician, performed tricks with matches and cards and candles, while Joe borrowed a guitar and sang and tried to remember the words and chords to every old song he ever thought he knew. Later on a mariachi band came in and played Mexican songs that we all drunkenly sang along to. The place was happening, for all ten of us.

Then Wanda came in.

'I need a goddamned stiff one!' she barked. She went to the bar to fix herself a drink.
'Did you hear what happened last night?' she said. We shook our heads.
'Sam got rolled last night.'
'You mean your son?' I asked.
'He ain't my son, darling, I told ya, but yeah, that's who I mean. Some bastards rolled him after he left here. Rolled him, took his bloody money and his keys.'
'Oh my God. Did they take much?'
'Did they take much? Just everything in his goddamned house. He's crying right now. I just left him. They took his passport, too. The bastards. I don't know how he's going to get home now. Be a hassle trying to get another one.'

She gulped at her drink and shook her head and we all hummed and hawed and shook our heads before the mariachi band passed around a hat and left and we talked about all the stuff that can happen while you're traveling, and by the time the bar emptied out and closed and the lights were turned off, the guys wanted to drive me the two blocks back to my hotel, just in case some cock thought he'd like to relieve me of my passport and money on the way home. I got out of the car and thanked them and said goodnight and they drove off into the early morning.

The young concierge peeped out from the shadows and gave me a sleepy smile as I tiptoed down the hall to my room at the back of the rickety old hotel. I closed my door and lay on my bed with my arm behind my head and lit up another cigarette. It had been so wonderfully familiar - the bar, the people, the singing, the music, the drunkenness, the fun. For one happy night I had been transported back to the back roads, country bars, 60s music and simple people of my own home town of St. Anicet,Quebec.

This guy Edwin Croc Dundee was THE original crocodile fighter. He wandered in and out of Wacky Wanda's all night when I was. There was a picture of him on the wall with his head in a crocodile's head. He looked like he could punch a hole though a croc's back and turn him inside out and not get a scratch.

Croc handler in Wacky Wanda's bar in Puerto Quepos Costa Rica


A traveler without observation is a bird without wings. – Moslih Eddin Saadi