A photo of my hostel, which is more like a hippie commune than an actual business. You can rent a hammock or sleep in a tent in the backyard and if you agree to paint a mural on one of the walls or pieces of furniture, you get to stay for free. Cool, huh?
I’m in the middle of an island in the middle of a lake in the middle of Central America and a deer is licking my hand.
Not just any deer though. It’s my hostel owner’s domesticated pet, Menta.
Menta doesn’t see herself as a deer though (or a “doe” as the hostel owner continually reminds me). In her mind, she’s a dog. 100 percent canine.
“Why does she think she’s a dog?” I asked the hostel owner yesterday. The owner is a native French-speaking hippie in his 70’s who has waist-length dreadlocks. He told me he came here from Africa on a 14-day vacation five years ago and then never left. That seems to be the story of most of the people who work in the hostel, (most of whom are French and all of whom are hippies).
“She’s not a deer, she’s a doe.” He corrected. I wasn’t sure what the difference was.
“Okay. Why does the doe think she’s a dog?”
“She was raised with dogs,” explained the woman sitting at the bar. A blond woman in her 50’s with an eyebrow ring and a tattoo of a vine around her left eye, she’s one of the permanent residents of the hotel. But unlike the other residents, who seem to all have a specific job (cook, cashier, maid) I’ve never seen her work. I’ve never seen her do much of anything besides chug coffee and stare pensively at the banana trees. “She’s never met another deer.”
As far as deers (or does) go, Menta is pretty annoying. Sit down for even a second and she takes that as invitation to lick your hand or nudge your leg with her head, begging to be pet. She loves to be scratched behind the ears. And like a dog, she also loves to eat from the garbage. Last night on my way to the bathroom I caught her eating a bag of Doritos that she’d fished out of the trash can.
The first time I saw her I was reading in a hammock in the backyard when I looked up to find her only a few feet away, eye-balling my book like she was debating whether or not to take a bite. I glanced at the Israeli couple who were making out in the hammock next to mine. They hadn’t noticed the deer and as much as I didn’t want to interrupt, it was so rare to see one so closeup, I thought that they’d be as fascinated by it as I was. But as it turned out, they weren’t impressed.
“Look!” I said, pointing. They turned and looked at the deer blankly.
“Yeah…” the girl said slowly.
“Have you seen it before?” I’d only just arrived to the island that afternoon. For all I knew, maybe it was filled with abnormally friendly, book-eating deers. With two active volcanoes (one either end of the massive island) the locals believed the island to be magical and the lake surrounding it to have healing powers. Maybe domesticated deers were a side-effect of that.
“Her name is Menta.”
“It has a name?” What, did the deer speak too? It was like I’d wandered into a scene from Bambi. Next thing I knew a bunny would probably hop over and introduce himself as Thumper.
“It’s the owner’s pet,” she explained. “She think she’s a dog.”