I hunted high and low for my travel journal and finally located it this afternoon on my bedside table. It was lying open and face down, which was odd, because I had no recollection of having taken it to bed with me last night. When I turned it over, I saw that I had started writing something in it, and judging from the sentence that I wrote down, I must have been asleep when I did it. The sentence in question is as follows: The skull is a lonely pet. Thankfully, I also have no recollection of the dream that went with that sunny sentence.

At the end of my travel journal excerpt in entry #402, I left off with D, the Fiery One, and I drinking gasolina at Milo and Lidieth's, a Costa Rican couple's home. Our night did not end there, however.

22 December 2005 continued...

After we left there, we were driving back to our host's home when we came across another couple that D recognized. They were walking home after a long day of picking coffee, so D asked them if they would like a ride the rest of their way home. They grew wide smiles, and I soon understood why.

They lived a few miles further up a winding gravel road with no streetlights. The road was yet another nerve-wracking adventure over rocks and through potholes and around wandering mongrel dogs. When we arrived at the couple's home, we were invited in. There is no other way here than to extend hospitality.

It was a tiny home with two small bedrooms, a kitchen, and a cramped living room that housed eight people. The floor was cement that had once been painted grass green but was mostly now a pitted grey and brown. I was told that the wife was only thirty-nine, but she looked much closer to fifty. A lot of children, long days picking coffee, and poverty will do that to a person.

Three of the children and their parents served us gasolina cut with papaya juice and ice cubes, so we stayed for a while and had stilted conversation with very little common language between us. The walls were of an old, whitewashed cement and the living room furniture was worn and bereft of stuffing, but still there was a television at one end of the room playing some ridiculous spanish program hosted by men pretending to be drunk bums. A salvaged exercise bike sat in the corner. I could not figure out who would ever need to use it when they all had to walk at least several kilometers a day.

After a lot of smiling and nodding, we turned down a second round of gasolina to avoid overstaying our welcome. People here are so hospitable, and it would be easy to abuse it. The family stood in the doorway and waved at us the whole time we were climbing into D's vehicle and pulling around past their house.

During our drive back down the hill, D kept slowing down and pointing out these little brown lumps ahead of us on the road. Being that I am from Saskatchewan, I thought they must be gophers, but D shook his head and told us to watch as he drove up to them. Just as we were about to hit one, it flapped up swiftly through the shine of the headlights. They were birds! They nestled into depressions in the dust and took off like last-minute cats in the suburbs.

Priscilla the pig in Costa Rica

D had the top off his vehicle due to an incident involving transportation of a pig and a lot of manure the night before, so during the drive the cool evening air ran over my skin while I smoked cheap cigarettes and noticed how high Orion was in the sky. I was almost unaware of all the minor accidents we were skirting as we skidded down the hill, because the blanket of lights scattered along the velvet-black valley made me feel as if we were all floating, swaying in a current.

Who was I to drink their gasolina and papaya juice? Who was I take up space in their living room and smile like Howdy Doody at conversations that I could not understand? Who was I to say gracias and then climb into the back of a shiny 4X4?

No one. I was no one. I was a novelty. I was an oversized, overpale curiosity warming a couch cushion. I was a gringo whose foreign name they had forgotten before we left. I was no one, and it felt fucking stupendous to find myself on a dirt road on a mountain under an impossibly wide sky being so much nothing.