A couple of days after my dog and I arrived here in Monteverde I drove around with two trash bags in my car—one filled with garbage, the other with recycling. This was part of the marginal effort I’d undertaken to spruce things up before the rest of my family arrived.
Particularly in this era, when what I knew about Spanish did more harm than good, things tended to go completely off the rails with little prodding. This errand was no different. I asked a local pedestrian I passed where I should put my trash. He gave me a quizzical look and said something like, “…in the street.”
I had seen a wide array of trash bags at the edge of mostly curb-less streets a couple of days before. I had also seen a mountain of trash piled up that same day on what I had previously, mistakenly believed to be a bench constructed for quiet contemplation.
I thanked the pedestrian and kept driving along. The streets were now free of trash bags so, regardless of this advice, chucking my bag out the window didn’t seem PC. There was also the pesky issue of the recycling. I had read an article somewhere about how Monteverde had a robust program, but what existed in print didn’t seem to have any signage, or basis, in reality. I again slowed my car and asked another Tico walking by something that probably equated to, “Where trash be?”
He frowned and let loose a torrent of Spanish. I understood none of it, but nodded my head several times whilst also saying, “Si, Si.” He’d taken the trouble to reply so I don’t want to discourage him. Amongst the barrage of foreign words and sentence structures I wouldn’t recognize in my native tongue—is conditional subjunctive a thing?—I thought I caught a reference to a “small building.” I cut my losses, thanked him profusely and continued to drive along, now looking for a small structure that would hopefully identify itself as a repository of trash.
A few minutes later, after additional confusing exchanges, I found myself standing in front of a small, cinderblock building with grates that swung in where windows would normally go. Taped in between the grates was a flowery, hand-written letter optimistically shielded from the elements via a plastic bag. I did my best to read the letter, but the fact that it was in Spanish was further complicated by the fact that the plastic bag retained an inch of water that leeched up the page.
One thing was clear in the swollen letters—there was to be NO reciclaje deposited inside. I puzzled on this for moment as one of the last people I’d queried, a Tico who spoke some English, had told me that these cinderblock structures had specifically been constructed to house recycling. The sodden note seemed to fly in the face of this guidance, and I pushed on the grate to peer inside. Inside the dark confines I saw several plastic bags which featured an army of wine bottle necks sticking out in all directions. There was also a fair amount of plain old, stinky garbage as well as round, bald things that had perhaps once been motorcycle tires.
Drawing no conclusion from the contents, I looked down at the bag of trash in my left hand and the recycling in my right and did the only thing that made sense—I put them both back in my car and went home.
Over the weeks and months that followed I eventually learned a number of things. There are two days a week when trash is picked up along the road, though that doesn’t preclude some residents from putting it out whenever the mood strikes—which is why the cinderblock buildings, which were indeed originally constructed to receive only recycled goods, are now actually the repository for trash for those who can’t wait for the official pick-up day. A portion of the population who is either as confused as I once was about all of this or who simply doesn’t care ignores the buildings and continues to put trash bags out on the street whenever they wish, which is a big hit with the local animal community.
The recycling DOES get picked up once a month, but it has to be driven over to a warehouse that doubles as storage for the municipality. This effort is overseen by a remarkable Gringa who I am lucky to count as a friend. She’s been here many years, and if you happen to bump into her at the recycling center on the 3rd Tuesday of the month make sure to ask her about the time her hippy friends were permanently deported because of nudity. Here in this land of natural beauty one of the things that simply isn’t tolerated is nudity—if your neighbor can see a portion of your naked body through a window that counts!—and some of her old crew found this out the hard way.
Now that I’ve mastered the in’s and out’s of trash collection and public indecency I try to help others who might be otherwise be confused. A couple of weeks ago I passed a couple of young, female tourists who sat, smoking on the metal bench that I too had once mistaken for a scenic rest spot. They were whiter than me, so I explained in English that the bench was actual a petri dish of germs and goo that served as the platform to keep the perros callejeros out of trash bags deposited there throughout the week.
The 20-something females stared at me as if I was the largest, most mobile wart they’d ever seen. I interpreted this as a lack of English and repeated myself in rudimentary Spanish. In return I received a series of odd looks, a long discharge of smoke, and a reply from the angrier of the two women that was heavy with consonants, and phlegm.
I acknowledged the impervious language barrier by waving, and for good measure switched back to English to warn them not to get naked in public during their stay. I then continued on my way, secure in my superior understanding of the waste management, recycling and public indecency processes.