by Nancy McDaniel

One day in November, several years ago, my art director friend, Wendy (not her real name), and I were on a one-day business trip to Indianapolis. During a break, we walked outside to get some air and began commiserating about the upcoming and unrelenting ordeal called “New Year’s Eve.”

Neither she (34ish) nor I (47ish) were dating anyone and we complained bitterly about the pressures associated with ringing in the new year. As my ex-husband used to say, “New Year’s Eve is for rookies.”

But the pressure to do something, anything at all, with someone, anyone at all, was enormous.

Let’s Run Away!
In another part of the conversation, we talked about traveling. She asked me about my many trips to various parts of Africa. She said she’d always wanted to go to Costa Rica. I got home, found a mailing from a travel company with a post Christmas trip to Costa Rica and sent it to her in the mail the next day along with a note asking her, “So, do you want to run away from New Year’s Eve?”

“Let’s do it,” she said. And just like that we decided to go because it was a great way to avoid New Year’s Eve and see some rain forests at the same time.

The Trip
Fast forward to Costa Rica, circa December 1995. It was a grand trip to a wonderful country, with nice people, lovely birds and rain forests. But the travelogue must wait for another time. Because this story is about a very handsome Costa Rican tour guide with whom my friend Wendy was definitely smitten (does anyone use that word anymore? Certainly beats “lusting after,” although that is actually more appropriate).

Let me tell you a bit about the differences between me and my friend Wendy (besides our obvious difference in age). This is a woman who actually thinks Parisian thongs are comfortable; regular bikinis from Victoria’s Secret were more my speed (at least I grew out of my “spanky pants” phase, no matter what comfort the Fruit of the Loom commercials convey.) She was petite, red haired, freckled and sexy. I’m tall, more of a size twelve to her impossibly tiny size two or size four, maybe sexy, maybe not (depending on the day and whose eyes are deciding). We made an oddball pair of friends, but still with more in common than not when you add in our spirit of adventure.

Make-Up by Candlelight
So this handsome Tico invited anyone from our group to go out dancing New Year’s Eve at La Cascada in Monteverde, the hot spot for the locals. Naturally, it was Wendy and me, solamente. And El Guapo and our bus driver who spoke no English but had a nice smile and friendly manner.

Wendy and I, doing our make-up by candlelight in our room after the power went out:

Wendy: “I read in Cosmo that it looks better if you put make-up on in candlelight anyway, softer, y’know.” Yeah, I thought, if you like crooked lipstick and eye shadow and sticking a mascara wand in your eye until your eyes tear and then you have to start all over again, but this time with a red watery eye to finish up on. Yep, that’ll work.

Vamonos al Disco
Somehow, in packing for our “wilderness” rain forest trip, we managed to find just the right ensembles for New Year’s Eve. Eventually, we looked pretty good and were ready to go dancing. “Vamonos al disco,” we exclaimed!

And because they had no white wine (my normal drink of choice) and I couldn’t decide what else to drink, I had a smorgasbord of drinks: Red wine, tequila, vodka, beer, and a local white lightning kind of brew. You get the picture.

We danced and danced, the only non-Ticos in the club. What fun we had – and wasn’t little red-haired Wendy the sensation, with all the men wanting to dance with her? They almost lined up for a chance at wheeling her around the dance floor. Including a man who danced so close to her, she named him “the Belt Polisher.” But it was fun, because we knew it was harmless. When you’re so far away from home, sometimes it’s a bit easier to be more open, more carefree, more daring. At least for me.

Dancing at the Hotel
But El Guapo was the anointed one. After singing the Costa Rican national anthem at midnight, we somehow got back to our hotel (in our tour bus) and were ready for more dancing. But the building with the dining room and parlor was securely locked. So our ever-resourceful Ticos parked the bus close to the veranda, plugged in some Costa Rican cassettes and we continued to drink and dance.

I finally decided it was time for me to give up and the looks being exchanged between Wendy and El Guapo made me think it was time to make myself scarce and leave our room unlocked for whenever she happened to return.

Hours later, in a deep REM sleep, I sensed someone leaning over my bed. It took a couple of minutes before I realized that it was Wendy and what she kept saying to me: “The Eagle has landed!” It was some odd Wendy-speak for “mission accomplished.”

You go, girl! What a way to avoid New Year’s Eve. At least in America.