West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Friday, October 21, 2005

An Honest Mechanic

Adventure of the week: finding a mechanic in Costa Rica. The project car, an ancient Suzuki Samurai that my friend Marcia has nicknamed “the Silver Bullet” for pure irony, needed some work. A lot of work, actually. The passenger’s side door would only open with the key, there was gunk in the carburetor, the steering was iffy, the alignment questionable, the clutch was going, and the gas gauge was long gone.

Bernal, one of my advisor’s field assistants, gave me directions to “Taller Robert.” (For the non-Spanish speakers, taller, pronounced tie-air, is the general word for a workshop. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even made the connection between “llevo el carro al taller” and “John is taller than Sally.” Strange how the brain gets caught in one language and stays there.)

“You can’t miss it,” he said, which, as in the U.S., is a sure sign of trouble. “It’s in La Guarea, right near William’s house. You know William, right? Oh. Well, it’s after the curve. Not the big curve, the next one. Before that bar where what’s-her-name works. It’s an abandoned church.”

“Una iglesia?”


“Is there a sign?” (rótulo: one of the vocabulary words that stayed with me from Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal).

“Well, no. But everybody knows where Taller Robert is. Oh, I think there’s a boat in the back yard.”

There was indeed a boat in the back, a 30-ft river launch up on blocks for a new paint job, and that was how I found Taller Robert. That, and the pile of car parts. It was indeed an abandoned church, deconsecrated, I presume, though the altar (now a storage space for vacuum pumps and sundry wrenches) still bore the words “beato es Dios cuyo amor cubre toda la tierra.” Robert and his three assistants were busy when I arrived, all lying on flattened pieces of cardboard on the concrete floor and examining the undersides of various vehicles. Robert sprang to his feet and greeted me. It has never ceased to amaze me how Costa Rican men, even working at pretty grubby jobs, always look freshly pomaded and smell of cologne.

We exchanged pleasantries and a few jokes about “Nuestra Señora del Motor Apagado.” Robert drove me back to the station as a test drive, after I’d given him the litany of car problems.

“When do you think it will be ready?” I asked him. I fully expected two or three days, considering the range and magnitude of the issues. But Robert smiled.


Now, this is a word that will give the willies to any gringo who’s spent any time whatsoever in Latin America. Much, much worse than “you can’t miss it.” Mañana could be next week, or it could be never. But lo and behold, I had a message in Recepción the next morning: the car was ready. Beato es Robert!


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