Though our new vacation condominium in Costa Rica is well built and beautiful, there were still plenty of entries for the builder’s punch-list.  We fussed, as follows:

“The exhaust fan in the second bathroom is weak,” I noted.

“Write down there’s a cracked tile in the kitchen,” said my wife, Katie.

“We also need aluminum foil and toilet paper,” I said.

“Laundry detergent, sun visor and extra keys,” added Katie.

After the list making, we proceeded to the logistics of finding the items.

“Let’s see, we need the hardware store, supermarket, and condo office.  Also, we have to stop at the ice cream place,” I said.

“How did that get on the list?” asked Katie.

“Sort of as a reward,” I said.

She shook her head but did not veto the ice cream stop.

Over the first several days of our visit, we enjoyed fresh seafood, walked on the beach, observed a selection of stunning sunsets, played tennis and generally enjoyed our delightful situation.  However, the “List” was never far from our thoughts.  As each item was obtained or corrected, we found another project or two or three, such as: a light missing in the exterior hallway (tell the management office); Wi-Fi connection is weak (visit the computer store and seek guidance, preferably in English); propane tank needs filling (hardware store); trash bins must be located; and, finally (for now) the non-functioning dishwasher handle requires repair.

When the dishwasher (now full) revealed its hidden problem, I reached an attitude approximating exasperation.

“How is this possible?” I asked no one in particular.

“This is how it is,” responded my world-weary wife.

“Didn’t anyone check the handle when it was installed?” I asked.

Upon reflection, it was difficult to complain about a circumstance as cushy as ours.  It is self-evident that hanging out in one’s own tropical getaway is not like being marooned on a desert island.

“Be happy,” I urged myself, aloud.

“That’s right,” said Katie.  “People could have it a lot worse.”

“Hard to imagine,” I grunted, not totally seriously, but with some degree of grumpiness.

Just at that moment, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man outside in the gardens managing two large dogs on leashes.  Since we thought we were the only residents in our building, so far, we went out to greet him.

“I’m John,” he said, holding back what appeared to be two small ponies but which actually were the results of mating a Great Dane with a black lab.

We introduced ourselves and learned about John’s situation.  He is in his early forties and chose to abandon a decades-long career in hotels and hospitality to try his luck in real estate in Costa Rica.  So far, not a remarkable decision, since many of the North Americans living full-time in Costa Rica are trying their hand in some aspect of the real estate industry, whether as realtors, designers, builders, managers, etc.

John’s explanation took a turn for the unusual when he explained the circumstances of his arrival the previous evening at his new condominium, just three doors from ours, from Calgary, Alberta in Canada.   He was accompanied not only by the two large dogs in front of us, but also by two other dogs.   Topping it off, his wife, Gina, is in her thirty-fifth week of pregnancy with their first child.

“I’m no obstetrician,” I said, “but isn’t that pretty close to full term?”

“Yes,” he replied.  “We think we have a doctor lined up in San Jose.”

“That’s a four or five hour drive,” noted Katie.

“Yes,” said John.  “I hope our car arrives soon.”

“You don’t have a car?” I said, fending off the larger dog’s determined examination of my anatomy.

“It’s with our furniture,” said John.

“You don’t have furniture?” said Katie.

“It’s been shipped,” said John.  “It’s supposed to arrive in a few days.”

“What are you sleeping on?” I asked.

“We have a couple of pads on the floor,” he said.

At that moment, Gina emerged from their unit.  Or, more accurately, I should say, a broadly smiling, blonde-haired, freckle-faced woman waddled over, holding an ample belly.

“Hi,” she said, with cheerfulness all out of proportion to her predicament.

“Delighted to meet you,” said Katie.  “John has been telling us about your adventure.  How do you feel?”

“Not bad,” she said, smiling, “except for the kicking.  And I think the baby’s ripped a muscle in my stomach.  And our air conditioner isn’t working.”

“It’s ninety degrees,” I noted.

“Yes,” said John.  “They said they’d fix it in the next couple of days.”

Gina winced with pain.

“Can I do something for you?” asked Katie.  “Anything?”

“No, I’m fine,” said Gina, all evidence to the contrary.  “I’d love to stay and chat but I’m just really exhausted.  It was a long day of flying yesterday, from Calgary to Los Angeles, to here.  I’d better go back in.  Perhaps we can talk more in the morning.  Great to meet you guys.”

We looked wide-eyed at each other.  This woman was suffering and was determined to decline offers of assistance.  “Good night,” said John, as he held the dogs’ leashes in one hand and Gina’s arm with the other and walked her back inside their hot, empty, dog filled, supposedly luxurious condominium.

We went back inside and tried to wrap our minds around their situation:  four dogs, no air conditioning, no furniture, no car, Gina nine-months pregnant, and clearly in discomfort.

“She should sleep in our place,” said Katie.

“Definitely,” I agreed.

“And we can give them some chairs, at least, and offer to do their food shopping,” said Katie.

“And assure them we’ll be on stand-by if they need to borrow our rental car,” I said.

“You know,” Katie said, “just because they were promised their stuff would arrive in a few days, doesn’t mean it will.”

“Do you doubt the timeliness of a shipment wending its way from Canada through Costa Rican customs?” I asked, rhetorically.

“It could be weeks,” said Katie.

“Months,” I said.

“I’ll go talk to them,” said Katie, determined.

She returned after just a couple minutes, a look of disbelief on her face..

“They don’t want any chairs,” she reported.  “They agreed to knock on the door if they need the car, but they think they’ll be comfortable enough in the evening sitting in the common area.  There are fans there.  And they insist the pads are soft enough for sleeping.”

“They’re lying on the floor?” I said.  “They must raise ‘em tough in Northern Alberta.”

Katie shook her head.  “Gina admitted her mother isn’t thrilled.”

For the next couple of days, whenever we walked past the common area between our units, John and/or Gina and several dogs were encamped.   The dogs, used to life in Canada, looked more uncomfortable than the humans in their new, tropical home.  With no furniture in sight, and a non-responsive shipping agent tracking it, they finally accepted several of our chairs.  Their air conditioner was “fixed” by the condominium, though it still was having difficulty keeping up.  (A future story will deal with repair methods in Costa Rica, probably entitled “Trial and Error.”)

On the next to last day of our visit, Gina accompanied us on a lunch outing.

“It’ll be good for you to get out,” said Katie.

“Yes,” agreed Gina, finally.

While enjoying fresh-caught fish, we learned that John’s job was not starting yet, and it would be months before he passed the licensing exam.  To our surprise, we also learned that neither of them spoke Spanish.

“John’s really good at languages,” Gina assured us, in the face of our gaping expressions.  “He’ll learn fast.”

We lobbied successfully for Gina to consult a closer doctor in Liberia, just twenty minutes away.  “And Mike, one of the guys at the real estate office, agreed to be on stand-by if we need a ride to the hospital,” she said.

It was gratifying to hear that John and Gina had taken some modest initiative to make their lives easier.

We said good-bye to John and Gina on our last day and had them pledge to inform us of developments, furniture-wise and, more importantly, baby-wise.  With their situation in mind, I readily agreed not to complain about any of the minor inconveniences of life, a pledge that I was able to maintain for nearly an entire day.  Unfortunately, upon arrival at Raleigh, it took nearly twenty minutes for my suitcase to arrive at baggage claim.

“How can this be?” I asked, the lesson not yet fully integrated into my thinking.