Crème caramel was once one of my favourite desserts. Then, I went on a school trip to Costa Rica for our ‘Field Ecology’ section. Yes, I went to a posh school, and the teachers came up with a number of frankly bogus foreign trips for us to go on as part of some ridiculous requirement to broaden our horizons or some other load of BS. Given the choice between the tropical rain forests and beaches of Costa Rica or Greece in the winter, which was a trip oddly led by one of the Spanish teachers, I picked the one with better sanitation and more sunshine. Ok, that’s not saying much. But, Costa Rica is the cleanest of the Central American countries to which I’ve been, and it’s far cleaner than most of Southern Europe. Just don’t eat the flan!
After not sleeping the night before the long flight and apparently required to go anywhere in the Americas connection in Atlanta, I decided to sleep the whole way there. Apparently, there were movies to watch and food to eat, but I only saw the inside of an eye mask and some water shortly before landing on what seemed like a hastily repaired runway. After a chaotic arrival, a nearly eternal wait for the air-stairs thing to reach up to the door, trying to explain that this group of 16 represented 7 different nationalities to the perplexed Costa Rican Immigration guy, and finally finding our guide, we made our way to our overnight accommodations in San Jose. I had now gone about half an Ethiopian eating period without any food, and that’s not a very good idea. You have to feed me, or I’m not a nice person. Fortunately, since it took us seemingly forever to get everything straight, dinner was in less than an hour. My two roommates in this tripple for the night let me take the first shower, so I headed down to eat before them.
You know, for once in my life I was hoping for a buffet… It was a sit-down prix-fix with a few items I wouldn’t touch. A couple of litres of agua de mineral, an avoided salad, rice, beans, and suspect chicken later, it was time for dessert. There was choice between fresh tropical fruits or Flan, which is what they call crème caramel in this part of the world. I order the Flan, and my friend/table mate Stephanie was full but ready to order a second for me. I think she might have been the one to each my lunch on the plane, but I didn’t care it this point. Two orders of Flan for me, and 14 orders of fruit for the dairy haters to accompany the rather good coffee.
I’m not sure who the ruler of Costa Rica was before the Conquistadors did their thing, but that son of a bitch took out his revenge on me about four hours later. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say it’s a good thing the ‘wet room’ concept had come over with the Spanish. It was bad, and my roommates had tried to call the biology teacher leading the trip. She and her husband were in a much better room with a bathtub on a different floor. For some reason after they had gone to the hotel’s bar for a nightcap, the phone in their room was off the hook, and no one answered the door. I may or may not have felt like death, but the cold, wet tile floor made a better bed than my seat in Delta airlines economy class had.
The next day we were off to some Butterfly place on our way to a beach on the Pacific coast. I had my bottled water, some rehydration salts, and skipped breakfast for the bus. My roommates told the seemingly unconcerned trip leaders that I had been sick last night, but I don’t think they really got the whole picture. I got some bumpy sleep on the way to this place, but as soon as we walked in I fainted. Now, I may or may not have had a concussion at this point, but our Costa Rican guide asked my friend to give me a pill. I have a lifelong debt to a certain friend of mine who had to give me a suppository while I was somewhat delirious. At least that’s what I hope to hell was going on!
After I was put on the bus, we went into some town with a pharmacia/clinic. An IV and some great drugs later, I felt much better. After a minor earthquake that evening, there wasn’t going to be an issue with me going to sleep anyway, so all was well. Our group had a few others get somewhat sick due to a little bit of food poisoning, but we had a brilliant time in our remaining fortnight of various adventures. Finally, At dinner in the same hotel on our last night they came in an asked what we all wanted for dessert. This time there were three choices, but almost in unison, everyone yelled out: ‘for God’s sake, Jaime don’t eat the Flan!” I just played it safe for once and had some coffee.