Mar 18, 2015

Warm Nights in Strange Cities: Costa Rica

The mist rising through the mountains and every shade of green, emerald and hunter and lime and forest and fern and kelly and jungle. Riotous eruptions of bright pink and brilliant orange and bold blue. A waving crab in the middle of the road welcomes us.

Flower-coloured paint on poured concrete walls and rusty corrugated tin roofs with swatches of brightly-coloured fabric covering barred screened windows. A dirt yard and a worn armchair out front for sitting and watching the road. Satellite dishes and the glow of television screens in the dark.

The roar of the howler monkeys from the black depths of the rainforest, the torture and anguish of a thousand helpless souls. The constant electric insect hum and the cheeps and chirps of bats and birds and monkeys. The dings and mews of tree frogs. The chirrup of the geckos that live in the Big House with us, the way they laugh at our jokes at night while we drink cheap red wine from Argentina and battle for the presidency with a deck of soggy playing cards.

Hummingbirds zip from blossom to blossom in the morning sunshine. Leaf cutter ants march down the trunks of trees and over the path to the beach. The golden orb weaver waits patiently in her web. Crabs of many colours, orange and blue and black and brown and yellow, slip out of sight when we approach.

Brush cutters and machetes and the endless attempt to tame the jungle and keep it from invading the scars made by man. Potholes and gravel and hot asphalt and the never-ending road work of brown-skinned men in yellow shirts and orange vests as a brown-and-white mutt, her belly swollen with a litter of unborn road dogs, supervises.

The road dogs themselves, all manner of size, colour, and breed, alone or in pairs, loping casually or running purposefully down the road to Manzanillo or all the way back to San Jose for all we know. For two nights in a row, a smelly road dog ambles silently up the jungle path to the Big House out of the dark. She rejects our meager offering of half a granola bar and some fresh water; she wants only to be scratched under her smelly chin and behind her smelly ears. She lies down on the mat where the door would be if the Big House had a door, sighs contentedly, and goes to sleep, where she dreams, I imagine, of roads.    

Battling Caribbean waves in the soft rain, the resistance of my muscles against the pull of the undertow, laughter tempered with that instinctual ocean fear, the taste of salt on my lips, salt stinging my eyes. Sand-coloured crabs creeping out from their holes when I sit quietly on a piece of rotting driftwood in the morning listening to the crashing of the waves as the beach comes alive with their wary sideways scuttling.

School children in bright green shirts, the colour of the rainforest, waiting at the bus stop at 6 a.m. Tourists wearing bikini tops riding rented bicycles without helmets. Ticos on scooters, heedless of oncoming trucks or tourists riding rented bicycles, darting over bridges and between the semi-trailers carrying loads of bananas.

Forests of bananas hanging in protective blue bags. The desire to steal one, to pick just one perfect ripe banana from a banana tree instead of from a bunch in a bin at the grocery store.

We coo over a sleepy two-fingered sloth hidden in a blanket nest, her tiny pig nose and tiny pink tongue as I offer her a fuchsia flower. We take photographs of orphaned baby three-fingered sloths, barely bigger than my hand, tiny smiling buddha brothers who fill me with joy. Our guide explains how he takes the young ocelot out into the jungle every day to hunt spiders and lizards and grow wild enough to spend his life in the rainforest where he belongs, how already the cat sneaks up behind him and attacks his neck; we are lucky to be here, lucky to touch this wild creature. We play with baby howler monkeys on a baby jungle gym and one of them leaps onto my head and sucks my finger. We cuddle capuchins and spider monkeys and howler monkeys and feed them from bottles and offer them pieces of broccoli. They use us as springboards to jump and swing.

We put on rubber boots and tromp through the mud of the rainforest after dark armed with weak flashlights in search of frogs and spiders and snakes and other scary things, but we make sure we are back by 9:30, when the really dangerous things, the fer-de-lance and the pit viper and the jaguar, come out to hunt.  

We enjoy steak chimichurri at La Refugio, rice and beans and Caribbean chicken at the Cool and Calm Cafe, ahi tuna at Jungle Love, pina coladas at Koki Beach, whole red snapper and lobster and rondon and chicharrones and chifrijo and fresh coconut that we smash ourselves.

A night-time visit from an opossum, who smells our bananas even through the plastic container we keep them in; his tail is immeasurably long and hairless, a giant raccoon-rat nonplussed by our presence. The death of a vibrant blue ortho butterfly. The theft of a bag of chips from unsuspecting picnickers by a cheeky white-faced capuchin on the Cahuita trail.

 A Jesus lizard says a Hail Mary and leaps from a vine in front of our canoe and skips miraculously across the water to the shore. A gust of wind shakes the tops of the trees and sends a shower of orange petals raining softly down on us. Buttercup, the wise old sage, wraps her strong sloth arm around her neck and screams.

Overflowing garbage bins and a breakfast club of vultures in Puerto Viejo at dawn. A magical glen like something out of a fairy tale, the grazing horses hiding their unicorn horns and pegasus wings from human eyes as we drive past on our way home.