A rare photograph of Marina with her buddy Rick. We never figured out who was mentoring who. Marina, who is Russian, for some reason was photo- phobic and we always joked with her about being on the run from the KGB. Or working for them. (At Puerto Limon Hostel nothing is sacred and sooner or later everyone becomes the butt of some kind of good-natured joking.) 

Marina is gone. She left us (again) about a month ago and disappeared into the mists and fog of rain-drenched Buenos Aires. She said she was going back to Germany, where she insisted she was not from. Marina Zubkova claimed she was Russian, but as far as I know, no one ever verified that by looking at her passport. We had a lot of people passing through Puerto Limon claiming to be one thing or another. Writers with no laptops, Swiss bankers trying to borrow other people’s cell phones to communicate with Panama; you never knew. But Marina probably was Russian. For one thing, she knew how to make borscht. And even though she spoke fluent German, she never wanted to be referred to as a German. So of course, we all borrowed a line out of Fawlty Towers: “Don’t mention the war!”

We loved Marina. We still do. We have dozens of photos of her holding her hands in front of her face when she thought we were taking her picture. Marina got teased a lot, but she always rose to the occasion, and we all got accustomed to her querulous voice rising to the pretend accusations, both parties betrayed by the shitty grins on their faces. Marina is very bright (English is her third or fourth language), and very diligent, responsible, and supremely organized. That’s why we wondered if she wasn’t secretly a German. Marina never shirked her duty. But the Russian in her could never admit things were good. Marina never had enough rest, and if you pointed out the good things that were happening, Marina’s rejoinder always began with “Yes, but . . . ” When Marina went out with a group, like any Marine, she always made sure everyone got home safe. She never left anyone behind.

Marina always gave back. She ate my bananas, but she taught me Excel. And if I asked her for help, she never turned me down. She would even apologize for making me wait sometimes until she could get to it. She taught me how to use my camera. If something didn’t work right, she couldn’t leave it alone until she figured it out. She never refused a beer.

Marina left us once before, and she left us a good-bye note, which I have reproduced below. Every single line of her note refers to a real episode that happened during her stay, memorable experiences that live on in our collective memories. We’ll let you use your imagination:

“For those who are hungover: just read the last sentence – it pretty much sums up everthing i wanted to say.

For those who are still drunk: read it while you still can.

And for the rest: you’re doing something wrong right now ;).

I don’t believe in destiny and I never felt like coincidences are a part of life. So I don’t know how to categorize this…but the thing is I don’t have to. I just wanted to thank you all for being in the right place at the right time.
If you think now that I’m going to write a heartfelt goodbye-letter… come on, people…haven’t you spend enough time with me to know better?

Instead I want to share a couple of things I’ve learned living in Puerto Limon. Some things you should and definitly shouldn’t do:

1. If you’re checking in at 4 a.m. and there is an old guy sleeping in a chair under a sign that reads: “I’m Max. I’m the cat and this is my spot”….Don’t check in!

2. If you’re checking in at 4 p.m. and the police is chasing a bipolar guy through the hostel…what is there to think about?…DON’T CHECK IN! Damn it!!!!

3. If you’re planning to check out some time soon, avoid all eye contact with other people…especially the staff.

4. If you don’t want a conversation to end up being about politics then avoid talking about the following topics:
coffee, cheese, cabdrivers (it doesn’t help if you are one either), books, movies, art, air, argentina, chess, sports, likes and dislikes, german cities, wine, beer, etc.

5. If you want your food to be stolen from the kitchen then make sure to write your name with huge black letters on it.

6. If you’re sick and have a death wish – go to a public hospital in Boca. The staff there is very friendly and eager to help you.

7. Don’t ever fall asleep in the common room! There is always a creepy stalker waiting around to touch you.

8. If you want to go out with a group of people make sure not to get ready simultaneously. It ruins the fun of waiting 3 hours.

9. After drinking more than 6 litres of beer make sure to wear a parachute when going to bed. [Editor’s note: especially if you’re assigned to the top bunk]

And last but definitly not least:

10. Don’t start the day by making any plans.

I do realize that for most of you the advise is a little to late… but maybe there is hope for the next guy.

Thank you for putting up with my crap for so long.

With love, Mirinda.”

[Photo by Rick Powell] Marina hated goodbyes. But she came back to Puerto Limon and then had to do it again. There are reports of Marina sightings in Valparaiso, and rumors that she’s headed for Bogota, but who knows. Marina, godspeed! You’re one of a kind. Hugs from your friends at Puerto Limon and our group’s growing diaspora. [Editor’s note: Even though Marina signed her note Mirinda, we are reasonably certain that is a typo and her real name is Marina. But we’ve never been able to verify that.]

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