One for the Road (El zarpe)

The zarpe of choiceWhy not begin at the end, both alphabetically and chronogically? This is one term that most visitors learn, almost like pura vida. El zarpe is the departure of a ship from port, but it’s also the sailor’s last drink before climbing on board. I picture an old man in yellow waders and a cable-knit sweater, tossing one last whiskey past his grizzled beard on a gloomy Massachusetts day, but the term really belongs to a fisherman with an icy beer or bottle of guaro in a place like Puntarenas. As you know, my dear, that’s a hot, flat, narrow Pacific port town. As you might not know, it’s where your father bought your mother her first copo, knowing that the shaved ice, sweet syrup, condensed and powdered milk would keep her from falling flat on her face at a patron saint’s festival. Why was I in danger of falling flat on my face? That’s a story for another time. Or never. But I believe the medical term is “too many zarpes.”

For landlubbers, this term helps ensure that another round of drinks will be ordered over some sensible soul’s objections. You say, “Come on! El zarpe, el zarpe! One for the road!” The person always relents. Repeat this for five or six rounds more and you’ve got the correct usage, both of the term and of those nice cold bottles of Imperial sitting in a bucket of ice, ideally in a dimly lit bar on a rainy afternoon with the best of the ‘80s piping through your brain.

I’ve had a lot of people set sail on me in the past ten years, off to other lands. Such is life, and certainly the life of the expat. When I first arrived here, I lived in a boarding house near the Rotonda la Betania, filled primarily with kindly Nicaraguan dental students who spent most of their time at class but left their plaster models arrayed around the dark kitchen. On the rare occasion that I went out, including the night I met your dad, I’d bid farewell to the empty house, the silent jaws and giant molars, and leave my journal open on my bed to a note – Went to such-and-such a show on July 28th – imagining that if a nefarious stranger did me in, my housemates might break down my door weeks later and at least find a lead. Odd and fairly pointless, but it made me feel better at the time, gave me the illusion of a watchful eye.

The tide came in. My life filled with friendships, the really good kind, the ones you can only make when you’re far from home and a little bit lost. Then, as the years went by, the tide went out again. One by one, or sometimes in pairs, people peeled off and headed back home, leaving me sitting on the beach once more. I’ve been cast up on a different part of the shore, of course, and I’m no longer alone. I keep the greatest possible company. It’s just that I no longer have many folks around for whom Enrique and Beto are really Ernie and Bert.

I’d like to say that these many departures have made me appreciate the people who are around me now, every moment of every day, but that’s not always true. I don’t think that’s even desirable. If we really achieved that, we’d cry every time anyone left the house (just like you do. Hmm. Perhaps you’re on to something there). However, I have decided that the zarpe is not only an outstanding tool for developing a drinking problem, but also a good approach to life. It encourages indulgence in pleasures because of their finite nature. We have one more with our friends because our ship, or theirs, might sail at any time. It is a jolly way of keeping in mind the fact that our time on shore, at the bar, and in life, is always limited. To me, that jovial awareness of mortality is very Costa Rican.

With you, little bean, the zarpe is just a little bit different. Shall we squish one more of our neighbor’s spectacular flowers into pulpy red mush in our hands? Ok, el zarpe, el zarpe. (Shhh.) Go up and down the driveway again pointing at oranges? Ok, el zarpe, el zarpe. Pretend your comb is a phone and stomp around naked? Go for it. No time like the present.

What’s that? Sounds good. One more, one more. I’m over here watching, with your dad, and maybe a little zarpe.

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