San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hotel Costa Rica: Opening night

The furniture truck arrived at midnight in the pouring rain, promptly getting stuck a block from the hotel. The driver yelled for assistance as our eight-inch Rottweiler, Macho Eatchu, went berserk.

Only in Costa Rica would they plan a semi truck furniture delivery for midnight. The driver, rain pouring down his face, was as hysterical as a Tico could get about getting unloaded – now! – after we’d waited for three months for the guy.

“I have to return to San José tonight!” he insisted. “My wife will kill me!”

The huge truck could not negotiate our hotel’s steep drive, and without a crew to pack 150 pieces of furniture up the hill, there was no alternative but to rent another group of hotel rooms in the town below.

“You what?” the hotel manager said, rubbing his eyes.

“I need to rent every empty room in your hotel, to store the furniture for my hotel in.”

“Of course, señor, no problem.” He handed me six keys and returned to bed as if this occurred every night.

I am continually amazed in Costa Rica by one thing. No one ever says no. “No, you can’t” is a concept unheard of.

“Señor, could I store these 100 rabid, diseased monkeys in your daughter’s bedroom for a week?”

“No problem.”

We were just struggling with the last king bed as the sky turned greasy gray and my entire crew showed up with a small flatbed and proceeded to start removing all the furniture from the neighbor’s hotel.

“OK then. Six rooms at $50 per room … that comes to $300, amigo.” The manager grinned. “Plus tax.”

Then, oddly enough, a few days later Hotel Costa Rica was ready. Exactly four months after the contractor had called to say, “C’mon down! Your beautiful hotel is finished!”

I told my wife it was time to put up a sign, open the gate and start making some money.

Nothing happened. A week went by, then another.

I was in the garage trying to remove a sniveling bush baby when my wife burst through the door, her face blanched, eyes wide in terror. I thought she’d seen a banker.

“My God! There’s someone at the bar!” She was horrified.

“Holy mackerel.” I dropped the baby. “What’s he want?”

“He wants a beer!” She was hysterical now. “AND A GLASS! WITH ICE!”

“Do we have any beer? Or ice?”

“You handle it!” She glared at me. “Make him go away. This is our home!”

I walked into the hotel and, indeed, an elderly Gringo gentleman was sitting at the bar. It was very weird. After four months of only our family in the place, it was if a stranger had walked into our living room, sat down and ordered a drink.

“What do you want?” I eyed him suspiciously.

“A beer … if it’s not too much trouble.”

I stood in the corner glaring at him as he nursed his drink. The minutes ticked by slowly. Finally he stood up and reached in his pocket. “What do I owe you?

“Nothing, nothing. It’s on the house.” I wanted to scream, “Just go away!”

He walked out the door and I collapsed. Our first customer. It had been an extremely traumatic experience. And we had lost $2.

It was time for our Grand Opening! Years of planning, tons of sweat, lies and arguments, all our money and a good share of Bank of America’s had gone into this night.

With our last dollars, our Argentine chef had purchased a mammoth pig and had been slowly roasting the beast and drinking heavily with his contingent of “helpers” since 4 a.m. A local band had been hired for the sum of “dinner for us and our family members.” Fliers had been printed up and hung on palm trees from Palmar to Dominical.

All was ready. We had estimated the crowd at 200. We were charging $50 per person, all you could eat and drink.

We were trying to decide what we were going to do with the $10,000 profit when the phone rang.

“Hello, Steve? This is your neighbor, Marty. We have decided you are charging too much, so none of us is coming unless you lower the price to, say, $20.”

I groped for an answer. Surely you wouldn’t call a restaurant in the States and offer them half price for your appearance. I didn’t know what to say. 

“OK,” I stammered, for lack of a better response.

At 6 p.m. sharp they started filing through the door.

“I’m in the band,” said the first 50 guests, holding up an assortment of whistles and drumsticks.

“I’m family of the band,” announced the next 50.

“I’m just drinking,” announced the latecomers.

With the pool full of screaming children and the bar crowd passing about huge cigars of marijuana, I started searching for our chef, to begin serving up the pig.

“He’s passed out on the lawn,” mumbled one of his helpers.

Just then a dripping child ran through the crowd, shrieking hysterically, “THERE’S A SNAKE IN THE POOL!”

And so ended the much anticipated opening night of Hotel Costa Rica.

To be continued. Find previous chapters at U.S. writer and former humor columnist Steve Church owns El Castillo hotel and villa on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast (

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