Australia Day In Costa Rica
Thursday, April 09, 2015 - Bertram Allan Mullin
I had just turned nineteen and had
been residing in Heredía, Costa Rica for the past three months to learn Spanish
and volunteer for extra credit on the side. A regular term for most people was
three months. I elected to stay for six so to get my foreign language courses taken
care of, which also meant everyone I knew was going home before me.
Even my schoolmates, Muza and
Secuna who traveled there with me from Texas, went back to our electrical
engineering school. Lunch breaks and weekends would be uncomfortably quiet now.
And I would be in Heredía for a long while without a friend in all of Central America.
With everyone gone and nothing to
do with my spare time, I took up salsa lessons. I couldn’t get the nerve to go
to a club and ask a lady to dance. The last thing I wanted was to put a nice
girl on the spot and freak her out as I klutz around what little moves I
learned in a few lessons.
My biggest concern was stepping on
her feet. And I was shy with women already. With the pressure of being alone in
a foreign land, it was even harder to ask anyone anything.
So I filled my time with practice
and more practice at the dance studio. Three long weeks went by. I went to
class, got some volunteer work done, and did my salsa steps with a German group
that didn’t know any English. We communicated in Spanish. Then I’d go directly to
my tico home to study more language
When I returned on a Friday, my tica mom surprised me during dinner. New
travelers arrived. They’d be bunking in the room next to me. The two were from
Australia, in town for a week to get a few Spanish lessons in and volunteer. They
would be going to my school with a bunch of others who they kept naming off.
My new roommates needed someone to
show them the ropes of Heredía. I was happy to oblige. “It’s easy here. There’s
a big church in the center of town. You can see its tip from anywhere in the
city. Makes for a good meeting place if you get separated from a group, or just
need a landmark when you’re lost. There’s a park attached to it, not to be
confused with the smaller one on the eastern part of town, or the one on the
western side. Those two don’t have a church.
“Nosotros Universidad es dos
bloques sur de la Parque de Central.” Yeah, I was being a showoff.
Maybe all my words were wrong? They
looked confused. “I’ll give y’all a tour in the morning of the park from the
school. You can walk this city in fifteen minutes, so it won’t take long to
know what I’m talking about.”
“Are there any museums?” Lucas
asked. The lights above the dinner table revealed his orange freckles.
“One beside the post office next to
Parq—Central Park. It’s pretty cool. There are these concrete art pieces on the
outside with holes in them. Back before they abolished the military here, their
troops used the actual art sculptures to hide behind and would shoot at invaders
from the holes—at least that’s what I think the guide said.
“My Spanish is only at an
intermediate level. I came here not knowing how to say the word ‘no.’” They
laughed with me. “It gets easier.”
I had to sip a lot of water after
all that talking. My voice hadn’t felt dry like that since Muza and Secuna got
me to rant about politics in engineering.
“I thought all Texans spoke like
cowboys,” William, the muscular one with a shaved head said.
“I’m from Austin.” It’s a big city
with a lot of rock ‘n roll.
“You like rock ‘n roll?” Lucas asked
me while showing an air guitar.
“Who doesn’t?” William answered for
me and nudged my shoulder with his elbow.
“It’s so strange,” I said. “The
other day I was speaking in Spanish to this cab driver. He asked if I was from
Australia. I told that him I’d never even met an Australian actually. And here
I sit with two.”
“Why would he think you were from
Australia?” Lucas unwrapped some of the green tamale leaves our tica mom set down on plates. He picked
at his food.
“Random. I think he was just trying
to say politely that my Spanish accent needed work.”
“Random’s right though,” Lucas
“Yeh.” William smoothed over his
five-o’clock shadow with a palm. “Hey, since you’re already being mistaken for
one of us, how about you join us tomorrow for Australia Day?”
“What’s that? I mean the history.”
“It would take a while to cover. To
say the least, we celebrate unity and convict ships that came over from Great
Britain. Sydney stuff. Fireworks. Drinking. The usual.” Lucas and William laughed
“Funny. The States celebrate how we
got away from Great Britain on
“We’re well aware. I’ve always
found that hilarious,” said Lucas.
“We get drunk. That’s all that
matters.” William high-fived Lucas. “So, you joining us?”
And in a blink, I had friends
again. Australia Day came that Saturday. William, Lucas, and I hit the town. We
ended up at a McDonalds and waited for their traveling companions to arrive.
They kept calling the place “Maccas,”
and insisted on checking in there.
“Uh, uh, Lucas. You can have Maccas delivered to your doorstep here.”
William pointed to a picture of a deliveryman presenting a Big Mac to someone.
Lucas had his head to his phone.
My new friends didn’t speak Spanish
yet, so I had to do the talking even though my version of the language was
mediocre at best. I managed to get us a table and order food through broken
sentences and a lot of potentially inappropriate hand gestures.
After we ate, over twenty Australians
walked up to our table brimming with grins. William knew all of their names.
Lucas hugged a few of his mates.
The two gave me a spectacle of an
introduction. “This is Scott Terrier from Austin. He loves to rock ‘n roll, and
is unofficially one of us now.”
It took me a while to shake all of
their hands. I didn’t remember each name I heard. My ears weren’t used to their
quick tongues. It was an interesting challenge to get their names down, reminded
me of coding, so I tried.
We walked across the town, through
Central Park, and to a bar with a booth big enough to seat the whole bunch.
“I’ve got Scott’s first drink,” William said.
One of the girls, the one with the brightest
blue eyes whose name escaped me said, “I got his second then.” She sat across
from me and presented a hand. “Name’s Em.” Em read my expressions like words on
pages. “I know it’s hard. There’s a lot of us.”
Her hand was freezing. “They say a
cold hand means a warm heart.”
“It’s just the beer bottle.” Em rubbed
the condensation, batted her lashes, and showed her pearly whites.
We drank some bear, and then we
drank some more. In the States the drinking age was twenty-one. It was so cool
that I could drink legally in this country on my off time. And hopefully my
parents would never know.
Em took a picture of William,
Lucas, and me taking a sip from our beers. “This is going straight online.”
least I had a little fun before my dad killed me.
Em pretended to sit on my lap and
took a picture of the both of us. Her perfume overwhelmed the air, and I was
temporarily out of breath from her.
The alcohol was clearly getting to
me. I started asking ridiculous questions.
“Hey, if it’s Down Under in Australia, is everywhere else Up Over?”
Em smirked. “No.”
“Do y’all have a National Anthem?”
Chloe, who was pretty tall even
sitting down, answered, “Yeh, Advance Australia Fair. But nobody knows all the
“Why not? In Texas we say ours
before every baseball game and in almost all large events. I don’t recall a
rodeo day without hearing it. Not that I’ve been to all of them, but still
everyone knows ours by heart because society force-feeds it to us. Australia
doesn’t do that?”
“No. Not really.” William finished
The girl named Sophie, with the red
bow in her hair, on the far end of the table said, “But with the twenty-five of
us here, we can recite the parts we know and sing it all eventually.” The
others raised their glasses to a cheers motion.
I was glad they were drunk too.
Every one of them started off with
the bit they knew. A few began and stopped where others picked up. Only one of
the girls, Ava, with round glasses, said the whole anthem. I applauded their
vigor and high-fived Lucas, William, Em and all the Aussies I could reach.
“Thanks,” Lucas said. “Do you have
any other questions? This is fun.” Some “yehs” were echoed from across our long
The challenge was there. I had to think of one. “Okay. What are
some Australian curse words?”
A lean guy about my age, I couldn’t
think of his name, played with his dark curly hair. “The same ones you have,
probably.” He went on to say a few I knew and some I hadn’t heard. Everyone
laughed as he listed them all off from A-to-Z.
“So, is bloody a curse word in
“We say bloody like one, sure. But
does it sound like a curse word?” William asked back.
Lucas added, “It just replaces the
“You mean f—?” Em nearly said it
when Ava grabbed her mouth.
Em ended up singing a song about
manners. Ava knew the lines and sang along.
I noticed Em’s seat was taken now.
She sat down next to me until we left.
Charlie, no Cooper was the lean
guy’s name. He clapped as the whole lot of us walked through Central Park in a
gigantic pack. We looked like a bunch of drunken tourists as we hobbled down a
few blocks and into an empty salsa club.
There was a dance floor inside, but
no one started dancing right away. Then ten of the guys and two of the girls began.
Some of the men danced together jokingly.
And everyone around me stood up
from their chairs and went to join the fun. Right then, sitting there, I felt
alone again. The darkness of the club consumed me. If I had been sober, those
tears wouldn’t have been welling about near my eyes. I just met these people.
If I asked one of the girls to dance and stepped on her little toes, I would
lose the only friends I had in all of Central America.
“Care to dance me?” Em lowered her
hand toward mine. “I’ll warn you first and foremost that your feet are in a lot
of danger, but I assure you the rest of you is safe.” She hiccupped a bit of drunkenness
out. “Well that’s not entirely true. Your shins are certainly at risk of some injury, and I’ll probably accidently
end up kneeing you in your—”
I took her hand to get her to stop
naming random anatomy parts. We faced each other and both smiled awkwardly. Her
hips pressed against mine. Her perfume did its work on my breathing. Her auburn
bangs reached for me. And right then the prettiest girl from Down Under
proceeded to belch in my face.
For the rest of the night we danced
our best dance, and left with the most memorable laughs of any Australia Day
that took place in Costa Rica, ever.
By: Thought Collection Publishing