December 19, 2007

Costa Rica: Gotta feed the baby

Each April Dana’s high school sponsors a vacation week student trip abroad, and this year the kids and their chaperones are heading to Costa Rica. I tried to get Dana to sign up, but none of her close friends are going, and even the "horseback riding in the mountains" part of the itinerary wasn’t enough of an enticement.

She hasn't seen it, but Dana’s been to Costa Rica before. Before she was born.

Adam was three and Dana in utero when we took a family vacation to the verdant, coffee-growing nation. For me, the trip highlight was freeing my growing stomach from the confines of business suits. I hadn’t yet shared my pregnancy news with the office and was still cramming me and Dana into my usual non-maternity corporate straightjackets.

I planned to announce the impending blessed event on our return from vacation. I wore a big, full, empire-waisted dress to the airport and, once on the plane, after ensuring no one I knew was aboard, removed my coat and let the belly breathe. I could hear Dana sigh under my skin.

Because I was pregnant, we didn’t engage in the physical adventures that have come to define most people’s Costa Rican vacations. We didn’t hike up the Arenal or Poas volcanoes, tramp through the Monteverde Cloud Forest, gallop a gelding full throttle through the surf, or jump off a treetop platform and zoom through the jungle canopy on a zip line.

We did tame things.

Like lose our traveler’s checks and spend a day negotiating the sprawl of San Jose to find the American Express office to replace them; test my Spanish at a medical clinic where, for 20 bucks, Adam, who’d developed a raging case of bronchitis, got a series of penicillin shots delivered through really gigantic needles; get a flat tire on a dirt road somewhere near Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park and sit for two hours in the tin-roofed auto repair shop God had miraculously laid in our path while the gracious owner and his son fixed our car.

To these memories of Costa Rica I add one more: Nausea – unrelenting and 24/7.

Dana was one of those babies who have to eat. All the time. Nonstop. Every 15-20 minutes, around the clock. Feed the baby or suffer – and I mean suffer – the consequences – and I mean consequences.

Breakfast in our hotels opened at 7 AM. We were invariably hovering outside the doors by 6:45, my face fairly pressed to the glass, hoping the sight of a desperate housewife, clearly pregnant as evidenced by my proud, flapping maternity clothes, would impel the staff to unlock early (never happened). I hauled food around wherever we went, and I saw the insides and persued the aisles of nearly every mom and pop grocery store in the country. I kept a loaf of bread next to my bed and wolfed down slices through the night while Adam coughed and Mike slept.

One evening in Jaco Beach we dined at an al fresco oceanfront restaurant. The scarlet sunset over the Pacific was spectacular, but I was focused on food. I ordered jumbo breaded shrimp and scarfed down three of the half-dozen on my plate. Waiters in Costa Rica aren’t used to being asked for doggy bags, especially from hotel-staying gringos, but I wasn’t letting those shrimp go. I knew Dana would be hankering for them before the night was out. "A llevar, por favor."

Sure enough, about 2 A.M., Dana told me she wanted food. Shrimp, about three, jumbo and breaded.

So as not to wake the deep-sleeping Mike and the by-now-quieted-by-penicillin Adam, I took the shrimp into the bathroom and sat on the cool tile floor to eat.

There were six creatures in that Jaco Beach bathroom: me and Dana, the shrimp, and the shiny black cockroach who sat under the sink, bug eyes fixed on my meal.

No way, pal. Just try to get your feelers on these shrimp, and you're toast. Gotta feed the baby.