Walking Across Costa Rica
On November 30th, 2018 I set off on an adventure with my 80-year-old dad, our friend Skittles, and our guide Orlando on a hike across Costa Rica from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific. I kept a written journal and captured the random tangents of a wandering mind
We started walking today. Woke on the floor of a strange house, friends of Orlando who live along a railroad track. We were served dinner and played cards with the owner. Breakfast of rice and beans (a Costa Rican staple), fried cheese, and Coffee.
In the wet grey morning, a cab picked us up and struggled to carry us four giant men and our bags across the rough roads. The driver’s son sat in his lap as the 6 of us went some 8 kilometers east towards the sea.
The futility of driving 20 minutes and walking back the same road for hours, a peculiar hobby.
Light rain and grey skies. Flowers, birds, cows, and a gang of howler monkeys. We walk through a banana plantation. The plants are tied together with cord to hold them up against the gravity of their green bananas wrapped in blue plastic (to protect them from pests). A man dressed in a yellow smock, like a ripe fruit, sprays poison from a tank on his back.
We take a detour and visit the factory to see an endless stream of bananas washed and packed into familiar boxes. Orlando tells us the worst job is packing the truck, Skittles tells us that his father is the one who unloads the tucks back in the US.
I feel fortunate to see the other side. As I walk with Orlando I try to find a thread of distrust with the Dole and Chiquita corporations (for like, the Banana Massacre and stuff) but he only offered a measured response of “some find bad things, others don’t”. It isn’t as simple as big companies are bad and the workers oppressed is it?
By noon we reached the train tracks, the same we slept near the night before. While asking for directions to a soda, or small restaurant, the owner of a small store invites us to stay for lunch that she is preparing. The secret, we learn, to good pineapple juice is to leave the pulp in.
Bellies full we begin our walk north along the train tracks. The sun is hot and the road is busy, everyone we pass says hello, hola, buenos, or waves. Three gringos in large packs burning in the sun for fun. A strange sight.
We pass piles of trash along the road. Orlando laments the sight. The people here don’t care for their environment, he says. I try to relate and convict my people, Americans, for their littering ways. He rejects the notion, says people from the states care deeply for the environment. It takes me a few more kilometers to understand my resistance to the idea
We walk past more ad hoc trash heaps. More plastic bottles and burn piles, bags of diapers. Shit, trash, crap, junk, waste. Stuff that will take thousands of years to disappear. It’s ugly against the lush and lovely greens of this land. We all grumble as we pass. What a shame.
Yet I come from the land of opulent gluttony, we use near a quarter of the resources but constitute less than a 10th of the world’s people. Single serving, quick and easy, plastic wrapped culture. We leave the TV and lights on for our pets.
Sure, the Ticos (Costaricans) trash the median but my people are trashing the whole world. We buy the bananas from this land, I know former executives from Coke who provide the plastic bottles that end up in the river, I fly down here to hike with my brand new synthetic backpack. Pockets filled with plastic wrapped protein bars.
Oh, I will put those wrappers in the “proper” place so they end up in some hole somewhere else. A landfill out of sight, in someone else’s backyard. I’ll cast the invisible garbage of methane from my burgers and carbon monoxide from my planes. My burn piles are on an industrial scale.
Look how these people are ruining the environment, I lament atop my throne of trash and ash. These people use in a year the water and electricity I use in a month. My home, which is buying local, trying our best to be good, is still pissing away 2.5 gallons of drinking water with every flush.
It feels like shame, it feels like hypocrisy, but mainly it makes me feel trapped. Trapped in a way of being divorced from reality. In the simulacra, the alternate reality overlain on a real life I can see but not join
I dream of being on a busy street.
I wake on the floor of Yalonda’s. We arrived last night and were fed a delicious dinner and allowed to sleep on the concrete floor of a covered extension of the house. Walls of fencing. The Roosters started at 3am calling out to each other, checking in. We are served a simple breakfast with meat and cheese.
Today we leave the flat lands of the coast and begin to climb. Coming from Denver the air here is thick, I feel amazingly strong. Up and up a simple road that becomes more simple with altitude.
I read Charles Esenstine’s essay The Ecosexual Awakening last night. I found it profound and validating in a way that only confirmation bias can. As I hike I wonder if perhaps some biases are better confirmed. The universe and all things are alive and conscious. We are not separate from this great tapestry. From the article:
Could the story of Lover Earth be that new story for civilization? Returned from our journey of separation, we rejoin the tribe – the tribe of all life on Earth, the tribe of the living planet – and seek to contribute to the wellbeing of all.
Reading this reinforces a feeling that I am on the right path, fitting as I start this hike.
We reach the top of the first hill, or mountain if you don’t live in the shadow of the rockies.
The volcano Turrialba looms to our north. The road we hike turns to a small rough path along pastures. As the sun gets low in the sky we come to a small settlement and follow Orlando onto a school ground. We meet the caretaker and reconstitute a freeze dried dinner. I watch the leaf cutter ants work as the sun sets. There is running water and a warm shower here.
We sleep on the tile patio
I dream about a space disaster and an old friend.
I wake. My leg hurt last night but no longer. We have coffee and eggs. Today will be a short hike.
Down the road we turn into indigenous lands. Orlando negotiates a tariff and we start into the jungle proper. It’s dense and muddy here. We cross a number of streams, I allow my shoes to fill with water and continue in wet socks. We arrive on the bank of a river. This will be our camp.
It’s just noon, we hang clothes to dry and swim in the sweet waters. I find a seed which Orlando informs me is a Monkey Heart which can be carved into a whistle. He shows me how and I cut a hole in the top and scoop out the meat. Blow into it like a jug and it makes a loud whistle. I save it away as a gift.
We erect a tarp to sleep under, make dinner as the light fades and go to sleep after dark.
Today is a slog through the mud. The trails are not built so much as they are simply used by the indigenous folks, often with horses. The rainy season has just ended and it lingers in these trails as deep sticky muck. The going is slow especially at papa’s pace. I’m still surprised by just how easy it is for me. I didn’t train very much at all for this but I am moving at an 80 year old’s pace.
At one point I became unfocused and fell in the mud which got me very angry. I continued to be pissed off for a while, reignited by each misstep, trip, and slip. As I quietly fumed and dwelled on this anger it became quite funny. Here I am choosing to do this ridiculous adventure and I’m getting mad from some mud? Cosmic comedy this is.
Caked in mud we eat lunch and examine bullet ants as they click away in the distance. When we emerge from the jungle there is a clearing holding a small humble home. We press on a bit further up and over the next hill through more mud and dense vegetation. As the sun threatens to hide behind the horizon we burst out of the forest looking over a vast pasture. It’s beautiful beyond words, the first of many vistas that words will fail.
We eat dinner in the dark among large smooth black stones.
I dream of hurricanes and a breakup that leaves me more relieved than sad. I weather the storm and am left free to wander.
My eyes open in a damp pasture. The cow cut green grass shimmers in a billion dew drop diamonds. Orange light cuts through the warming morning mist. I run up the hill a way to stand in awe of a fallen giant bleached white tree trunk that catches the morning light like an alien skeleton on an unreal world.
Breakfast from a bag and our boots carry us up the hill. I’m so impressed with my father’s strength. He is older than Skittles and I combined, 50 years stand between him and I.
In 2067 I will be as old as my father is now.
I used to dream of flying cars and space stations when considering dates like this. Now it’s different. The west burns and the east sinks into the sea. Every conflict and disaster can be traced back to man’s impact on this earth. The rape and domination of this world, these are the consequences bearing down on us.
When I am as old as my father what will the world look like? I have no option but to be optimistic and hopeful in an attempt to invite that future in. It certainly won’t be people who believe the world is fucked who will unfuck the world.
An end to domination and oppression. It is our domination towards each other which is the foundation of our domination of this world. The liberation of women and more generally the feminine, the liberation of culture that has been resisting the alien insanity that would kill the world for a dollar. That is the future I see. Liberation from this cruel legacy system which fails us so fully.
It will hurt to get there. Like any substantial lesson there will be pain. This walk will have its fair share of discomfort and pain but we will get there. I wonder where we will be along the journey in 2067. If I’m there will I be as strong as my father? I hope so.
Out of the indigenous land
We reemerge into the Republic high atop a hill. Stretched out ahead of us are the mountains we will be climbing. The nature of the land has changed, the fences and pastures, the patchwork of private ownership, the lights of settlements.
As we descend so too does the sun, retreating behind the western hills and soon the light fades to dark. Dad is exhausted and has a hard time keeping his balance on the steep rocky path down the mountain. Our lights provide the only illumination, I walk next to him with a hand on his pack ready to catch him if he falls. His strength gives way to fragility, though he continues to push on. I am scared for him. The bugs swarm around our headlamps, flying into my mouth and nose. It’s a miserable climb down that feels never ending. Then the music of a river triumphs an end. We cross a rusty footbridge and are met with a road with street lamps.
Set against the fragility of my father I feel wildly strong, fit, and healthy.
Soon we are on the porch of our host’s home drinking coffee. A woman we passed on the way offers us dinner and breakfast. After dropping our stuff off in a covered church event space, our home for the night, we take cold showers and head off for dinner.
The woman’s home is simple but nice, her daughter bounces around. I eat the huge plate of food and then have seconds.
Sleep comes easy tonight.
Tonight I dream in Spanish.
We eat breakfast with our new friend, her son is awake and sings to us. A ball of creative energy.
The food tastes so very good, everything is vivid and ecstatic. I’m covered in itchy bites, sunburn, sleep is far from comfortable, the food is–in absolute terms–nothing special, I ache, I am in pain. And yet and yet I am alive and it’s blissful, the whole thing.
The hardship casts my real life in sharp contrast. I live like a king in a home with solid walls and hot showers. Normal life is so fucking easy.
Today is a dry day, the sun shines as we climb the mountain road. Before we start I look up at the climb ahead of us and expect it to be hard but once again it’s easy. I devour the hill.
We end up at a small soda where a young girl holds a kitten while her dad makes us lunch. More rice and beans.
Cost of the good life
It’s really wonderful to stay with these Ticos, see how other people live. Most of the places we’ve stayed have been quite modest, cold showers and simple homes. A fridge, TV, slat windows, cell phones, a few lights. These folks must live on a fraction of the resources of a normal America.
The gringos who live here, my parents included, have such big homes that desperately try to maintain a separation of inside from outside.
With a little bit more the Ticos could be living an even better life, just a little more technology, a little more efficiency, a little more comfort. While on the other side us westerners could–and must–minimize. Join the rest of the world by living within the means of our environment.
This move towards minimizing has been foolishly sold as “cutting back” yet it seems to me to be so much more liberating to leave the huge house, all the useless shit, the opulence that becomes impossible to maintain. I imagine that it could be an easy sell to us westerners. We were sold on bottled water when it comes from their tap for free, anything is possible.
Community on the Comina
We arrive at a home where we are given bunk beds to sleep in. Down the street we have dinner in a large pavilion where a man tells us about the community and how they are trying to build something for tourists in the middle of Costa Rica–few people visit the interior–along this hiking path. The Comina de Costa Rica that we are walking is a new development. Though Orlando has hiked it nearly 30 times we are some of the first gringos to hike it as a recreational trail. There is effort to build this out as a destination.
He says they like to have college groups come out because they come out to learn.
I dream of falling in love and climbing down into a dark and scary world. My love and I are unafraid of the depths of this dark world, giant snakes move between dark polished obsidian stone structures. We playfully fend them off and decide it’s best to move on.
Across the street (in the waking world) is a crane that loads sugar cane into trailers. We asked the farmer how much the cane sold for. $40 for a ton. As we walk I consider the strange economic conditions that create such disparity in labor. I can sit at a computer for less than half an hour and earn 40 bucks. Compare that to the work it takes to grow, harvest, and move a ton of cane.
We walk to La Suiza today. The indescribable vista today looked over the ridges of the continental divide. Down in town we stop by a soda for lunch. It’s little more than a hole in the wall with two women working in a home kitchen. This wouldn’t fly in the states, but the fish is amazing along with the staple rice and beans.
On the way to our next home I try to buy some nuts at a candy shop. I’m not able to communicate well and it’s really hard for me. Communication is more or less my defining feature. I’m good at talking in english. Being hobbled by a pathetic command of the native language makes me appreciate (and miss) what I have.
We make it to Dona Luz’s home just outside of the town center. She serves us coffee and bread with butter and cheap sliced meat. The home is simple, probably the “poorest” we’ve been to yet. Cold showers and bargain toilet paper. Along with Dona Luz and her son are three old men. Orlando explains that she has taken these lost men in. One had a stroke and was abandoned by his family, the other was found wandering the street.
How many people out there in the world are abandoned? Emotions well inside me while I consider this and the inverse question: how many people like Dona Luz take these lost souls in.
The world is cruel and beautiful. Dark and light. This woman has next to nothing yet gives so much. I wonder about why those with more don’t give so freely. Perhaps wealth is a cage in which we have more to lose and thus more that needs to be protected from loss. Either way, it’s inspiring.
We are fed dinner, it seems to taste the best yet. We sleep on her floor.
Be wary to refuse a coin to a god in the guise of a bum.
I dream of walking through San Jose and being lost in a movie theater. An ex girlfriend saves a seat for me, to my relief.
We eat breakfast and set off. My left hip is hurting and I’m frustrated. A few kilometers in the warm sun relieves both.
We walk along a road inside cane fields for what seems like forever. Eventually we arrive at a restaurant with overpriced food, but there is a nice gazebo and an opportunity to dry our wet clothes.
Further down the road we take a hard right between two houses which opens to a small path lined with moss covered fence posts. This path hairpins at an amazing view into a river valley where we cross over a foot bridge.
The road leads us into a town which is most beautiful, almost strangely so. People are out on the street, it’s alive. We stop in a grocery and buy a few days worth of previsions.
Further through town we come across a mural with the words El respeto del hombre hacia la naturaleza es inseparable del respeto entre ellos mismos.
“Man’s respect for nature is inseparable from their respect for themselves”
We climb up a mountain out of town until we reach a school house. The gate is locked and we are forced to walk around. It’s dark by the time I prepare our first dinner that doesn’t come out of a freeze dried bag. I make rice with instant soup mix.
Tonight is the dark moon. In the night the clouds clear and I see the stars.
I dream of a video game where we pilot giant fighting robots.
At first light I’m awake and make breakfast, coffee with coco mix, warm powder milk and cereal. Hanging on the wall is a paper with the words:
I am grateful for god creating everything and for creating me so I can experience it
We climb up and up again today. To my surprise we pass a bunch of black raspberry bushes with ripe berries. I stuff my face. In my childhood home our yard was flanked by these very bushes. I would eat them until I was sick, not much has changed.
Further up we reach the top and have lunch. Peanut butter and bread with honey and caramel. As we come down we are presented with yet another amazing vista. A river valley under blue skies revealed by fluffy white clouds that caress the tops of nearby mountains. We snake down the hill and come to a rickety vehicle bridge. On the other side is a man selling fruit. Orlando pushes aside thick vegetation to reveal a pile of metal. This, he says, is the material to repair the bridge which has been sitting here for the past number of years. Pura Vita.
We get into town under overcast skies. There is a party going on at the church. Something is strange about this place, an uneasy feeling. Orlando leaves us in front of a shuttered storefront. He returns with keys to the storefront, turns out this is where we are sleeping tonight. Lucky for us he leaves the keys near an open window when, later, I accidentally slam the door and lock us out.
We cook dinner inside the vast empty space and I turn in early. The evening air is full of music, festivities, and people talking way into the night.
I dream of opening fruit and finding them full of glowing worms that cover and consume the world.
Today we climb and climb. We are entering a park and have to cross a barbed wire gate. As we ascend we come to a work camp. Music blares and a pack of coffee colored hounds rise up and approach. The four of us tense up as these dogs close the distance, without barking. When they are within biting distance it becomes clear they are not much more than puppies and greet us happily. As we pass through we see mom, the husk of a dog, sagging tits, drained of her life energy in stark contrast to her brood.
Up and up we go, into the clouds, following a road. We stop in an abandoned worker camp under a tarp tent for lunch, coffee and sugar.
I walk ahead until the road ends under a high tension power line tower. Its buzzing wires stretch out and disappear into the clouds beyond.
The rest of them arrive and Orlando tells us that we will camp here, but we need water. Down the hill is a stream. Skittles and I make the 15 minute hike down a very technical path to a scary bridge over a stream. We fill up water and brainstorm how we will negotiate this path in the morning.
I cook dinner again, I like being the cook, I like feeding people.
Sleep is uncomfortable and difficult. I wake up under a tarp under the buzzing power lines. Action at a distance, in transit. We make coffee and breakfast then start down the hill. We carry dad’s pack so he can focus on getting down.
I follow him down the hill as he navigates the difficult trail. For all his strength on this hike he looks like an old man with two canes navigating down the tangled path. It’s both impressive and makes me feel sad. This is the first and probably last time he will hike this trail. Probably one of the last “true” hikes he will do in his lifetime. A life that is approaching its final act.
I still remember lying in bed as a kid crying about my parents death. As I reconstruct the memory now it has me crying over the realization that my parents, like all people, will someday die.
Strange, in that obvious sort of way, that everyone will lose their father. Before leaving on this trip I held a lover through the loss of her father. Someday someone will hold me.
For now I am with him and as I tend to believe time is immortal. I will always be hiking this trail with mí papa.
We cross the continental divide as we crest Sierra De La Muetre, the Mountain of Death.
Descending down the other side, flowing–like all the streams we cross from here out–to the Pacific. We come to a small town. There is light rain falling. A canvas for rainbows behind us. Burst of sunlight after a whole day in the clouds.
There is something magic about this town. It’s quiet and I don’t see anyone for quite a while. The dogs are polite and the gates we pass are left invitingly open. While the last town was foreboding this one is calming. We make our way to a large empty event space with big red metal doors. Orlando has set us up once again.
Sleep is hard and uncomfortable once again, it’s so very cold. We are at over 5000 feet, higher than my home in Denver, and I’m not quite prepared for it. My dream tonight is a very detailed news report about a ship that is capsized by a rogue wave plunging the passengers into icy waters.
Once I have some bread and coffee the miserable cold seems less so. We walk across the valley and up a hill to the Trans American Highway. After a few hundred meters of walking on the shoulder of this busy road we come to a pit stop with a breakfast buffet and wifi. I feel confused and distant, like I’m experiencing all of this through a telescope. I don’t tell the others of my confused state–why? I ponder this for a while as I stuff my face with meat and carbs while posting to instagram.
I’m afraid to share because I don’t want the attention. I don’t want people to worry about me and to start offering help and support. I don’t want to take up space. I’m 6 foot 4 inches tall, a big guy, I can’t help but take up space, so I often diminish myself. I hunch, I devalue my needs and don’t share them, I make myself as small as possible and attempt to retreat from the physical reality of that not being possible.
We continue on into a rich and fertile valley. The homes are much nicer here and the land is bursting with luscious life. I come upon Orlando stopped by the side of the road. A farmer approaches from beyond a fence, ducking under a ceiling of trellised plants offering yellow green orbs. The farmer exchanges 12 ripe fruits for ₡1,000 colones. He hands one to me and dad.
La granadilla, passion fruit.
The last time I ate one of these it was called liliquoi, the Hawaiian name for passion fruit. One of my all time favorite gifts from nature. I bite into the hard brittle shell which cracks away like an egg revealing the alien like seeds inside. They are arranged like wedges of a citrus. Each black seed contained within a clear bubble of jelly. I enthusiastically scoop some of the seeds out with my tongue and suction. A juicy glob of seeds are released from the tentacle like filaments on the wall of the fruit with a pop. The jelly is sweet and tastes of passion fruit. I crunch into the seeds which break with a crunch into a tart fracture. Life ecstatic.
I eat my remaining 2 granadilla before we reach the bottom of the hill. Over rivers and into the town of Copey. In the main square a stage and chairs turned face down bowing to the group of people setting up for a later event. It’s the day of the virgin, there will be a celebration. Adjacent to the event is a footprint of ash where a beautiful wooden church once stood, explains Orlando.
We eat tamales under a windy tree near the football field.
The road to Santa Maria
After lunch we descend into the valley that cradles Santa Maria. Probably the most dangerous leg of our hike as we navigate a busy winding road with hardly a shoulder to speak of. Steep hills on one side, sharp drop on the other, with blind turns.
We are rewarded for that gauntlet with a hotel room. Soft beds, wifi, and warm showers. Orlando goes to meet a family in town while we hunt for food, mainly peanut butter. After securing food for the next few days and eventually finding (a huge jar of) peanut butter in an unlikely produce store we head for dinner. The three gringos go straight for the pizza place in town and along with our extra large supreme we each get a tall boy of Budweiser.
Walking home through the central square, then into our beds. Each of us becomes lost in our phones for a while, back in the feed.
I’m stuck on the roof of a skyscraper. I’m not sure what to do or how to get down. I don’t want a helicopter to come get me because it would be a hassle and I might get in trouble. I slip and fall off the edge but catch myself. As I dangle it dawns on me that this is a dream. I let go of the edge and fall to the ground, aware and awake inside the dream.
I wake up in a nice warm bed. We quickly pack and cook breakfast in the hotel room as Orlando returns to meet us.
Climbing a hill south of town, passed construction and coffee plantations. We crest the hill and hike down into yet another beautiful valley. There is an almost hyper real quality to the world here. Perfect weather and an explosion of colorful flowers. Life is on amazing display. The vistas might very well be idealized paintings. There is a quiet magic here.
The hiking is easy, mostly dirt roads. Tico flat as Orlando calls it, meaning small rolling ups and downs. At a fork in the road we stop for lunch then weave down into the river valley.
The clouds shift through the hills like inverted white mountains. The sky is dynamic and bold, the fluffy clouds seem close enough to touch. Land and sky mix here in a most incredible way. The whole scene roars with the music of flowing water below. The echos create the illusion of being in a stadium of a crowd cheering us on.
The world here creates specks of us beneath its mighty size.
We take a group photo around a large rock with the flag of the Republic painted on it’s side. There I forget my walking stick. It doesn’t dawn on me for another kilometer. I run back for it. As my feet pound the ground I feel an impressive sense of strength. I haven’t run like this in a long time and I have the stamina, I’m doing it. I meet back with the group, drenched in sweat . A short hike to our camping spot along the side of the road near the entrance to a small farm. I cook dinner of elbow noodles and red meat sauce from a plastic bag.
The mosquitos are thick and hungry. We are in a cloud but I can still see the light from a setting sun, like looking at a scene through smoked glass. The foregrounded trees are ghosts, flat and grey.
The night brings a cacophony of strange noise. Crying cows, howling monkeys, screaming coyotes, the fluttering of wings through the tent. The night is alive. Sleep is hard to find, I watch the waxing crescent moon fall out of the sky behind the horizon but fall asleep before it disappears.
I am lucid again in this dream. A friend who’s relationship with me is strained–in waking life–sits across a table from me. I attack them in a senseless way, just to hurt them. I’m haunted by the dream all morning.
Last night’s comfort in sharp comparison to the bad dreams, bugs, and spooky noises all night. I’m hungry and cold, my body is hunkering down. Our bodies have seasons, it’s winter in mine, lean times. I retreat deeper into my sleeping bag.
Next I peak out and it’s light.
I make coffee and warm milk for everyone. We pack and I take off first to have some down time for writing.
Along the ridge road I get my first visit to the pacific. It seems so close, flat, and muddy. An armada of clouds floats above the sea ready to snake in between the hills to invest the interior with water.
Further down the way, past pastures and pickup trucks full of curious men. A cross road, my lunch spot. What have I been thinking about? A relationship, a lot, much more than I would like. Talking to a simulation of a person in my own head. I want to opt out of that game.
I fix coffee so it’s ready for the rest of the crew once they arrive.
Once they do we snack on peanut butter, honey, and caramel covered tortillas. I add crushed salt crackers to mine to give them a little extra crunch.
The path becomes more trail than road as we wind down into the valley. Here we cross landslides and waterfalls. There are some very challenging spots where the land has slid away leaving only loose rocks and sharp, long falls. Crude unstable paths are shaped into the gravel.
Watching dad struggle over the rocks is scary. I imagine seeing him fall to a terrible death. Strange how the mind ideates in this way. I wonder if other people see this and think of the best possible outcome? I suppose we consider the worst to prepare for it, even if it’s just to feel the potential trauma a little less.
I’m shooting video, if he falls I suppose I’ll just have to throw the camera down with him. After the hike when we watch the video with mom she simply yells “ok, never again”.
A flat patch of trail becomes a lunch spot. As we pass larger and larger waterfalls. It begins to rain for the first time on the hike. Then almost as soon as the rain starts we arrive at a cabin where we will sleep tonight. The small slat floored structure had a squat deck with stumps for seats. One of the stumps is painted with a Toucan.
Once again we are in the clouds and they squeeze into the house through the floor and windows. Birds and bugs sing as the day turns and the clouds begin to melt away in sorbet pinks and oranges. In the night I awake into the front yard and marvel at the stars.
Everything is so far away, most of the matter that makes up everything isn’t here, but everything that matters is right here, right now.
I’m in Atlanta, walking up a snowy hill. I run into an old friend I recognize but who’s name I forget.
I wake up and make coffee and hot milk once more. Another beautiful day spills in through open windows.
We hike through the jungle towards Orland’s home. It’s hot in the morning and the horse flies are biting until the clouds envelop us. Quiet and still, the bugs go away and my mind settles. I dream of a story about an astronaut from our time that crash lands on this world in the distant future.
The trail carves deep canyons through the forest. Orlando isn’t particularly fond of the design choice but tells us the owner of the land likes it this way, so that’s the way it is. I never thought of trails as designed.
After a quick lunch, down hill through some rain into yet another beautiful valley we arrive at Orlando’s house. He has lived on this land for 30 years. Through the gate, past the fruit trees, over the horse cut grass we arrive. We unwind as Orlando gently greets his wife. The home is beautiful polished wood floors, open, simple, well kept. An amazing home. Dinner is cooked on a cast iron wood fire stove.
We shower with water piped from the world right outside, it’s a refreshing temperature. Leche bread and coffee. Later dinner of carne, rice, and beans. Lights powered by sun charged batteries. Good food and mattresses to sleep on.
I dream in Minecraft and video game logic. I dream of parking my car wrong but when I go to move it the brakes don’t work.
I wake before sunrise and walk into the yard to admire the sky, satellites, and falling stars once again. A fantastically bright Venus rises in the east.
Through the morning I think about leaf cutter ants and how they are born for their role in society. They don’t have to choose, if you’ve got big jaws you bite leaves simple as that. Us humans spend a lot of time wondering about what we are supposed to do. I feel like my role is becoming clear, my cosmic task.
Orlando’s wife cooks an amazing breakfast and we get off to a very slow start. By the time we are moving the day is hot and sunny. We meet Orlando’s extended family as we make our way to a river crossing. There are lots of little kids around and a grandma who makes them share their Cacao fruit with us. The seed that is used to produce chocolate in the Cacao fruit is covered in this mucous membrane that is sweet and delicious. I see why they don’t want to share.
We cross the river and climb a hill only to come back down into the river valley. Along the shore a man catches fish and we sit to eat lunch of tortilla sandwiches wrapped in a big leaf that Orlando’s wife prepared for each of us.
We cross back over the river in a little cable car, just large enough for a person and their bag. Once we are all safely across the climb begins. We’ve waited long enough for the clouds to find their way into the sky and block out the direct sun but the air is still warm and moist. Up and up we go. dripping wet with sweat. This is a cruel climb which I later learn is the only road north out of the village.
At the top we sit and have a bite to eat until our sweat grows cold.
Down into the valley where a setting sun casts the few remaining hills before the ocean in blue and orange atmospheric perspective. We can see Manuel Antonio. The waters of the Pacific are made molten by the sun’s reflection. A gentle hike in the cool light of a setting sun. Arrive at Orlando’s daughter’s home. Her mother-in-law and young child greet us. Soon the boy has his toy animals spread across the floor and is giving my father Spanish lessons.
I’m too exhausted to engage. The father comes home and speaks quickly with some broken english mixed in. Dinner is served, familiar rice and beans but this time with Yucca. A favorite root of mine.
Most of the people who have served us food haven’t eaten it with us. Tonight the kid and father join us for dinner. The kid, maybe 3 years old, drops his glass of juice off the table. It lands with a shatter sending glass shards across the concrete floor. Even though most of the language is beyond my comprehension I can see that no one gets mad. No one frantically picks him up, no one panics or rushes to sweep up the broken glass. Just laughing and light chiding. We finish eating then deal with the mess. No one is hurt.
I’m exhausted. We move the dinner table and chairs then cautiously spread our air mattresses on the floor.
I’m in a busy train station in China. A friend stands at my side, a slight Chinese woman. She steals food from a stand and we skip paying our fair on the train. I help avoid the ticket collector while the train speeds across the country side.
I awake on the floor of the dining room. Dad and Skittles are already awake and cleared out. We have a new standard breakfast of rice, beans, and eggs.
We climb the last set of hills today. Napping on the top of the very last one, drying our clothes in the sun. Further down the hill the road becomes more busy. There are more gringo tourists. We are nearing the coast.
A round of beers at a bar along the way. The sun hangs low and turns the sky into vanilla cream with peach and strawberries.
There is a fiesta in the town of London. Up a road we enter a family compound. Orlando greats people and gets warmth and joy in return. We are introduced to a number of people in a blur. There is a party going on here too, a baby shower it turns out. The family retreats from the outdoor pavilion which will be our shelter tonight. I too retreat. There are too many people, I haven’t had hardly a moment alone in over two weeks. I fantasize about my big soft bed in a room all my own behind a locking door. I dream of filling a bathtub with hot potable water and soaking myself in it. The simple luxury. Alone.
I used to think myself an introvert but recently I’ve been better understanding my love of being alone. Like most people, I assume, there is just a basic need for alone time. For me I need time to get away from people’s emotions. When I walk into a room everyone there will telegraph their emotional state. “I’M ANXIOUS” “When will it be my turn to speak” “wish I didn’t have to hold the conversation” “I just made a bad joke, I’m stupid, worthless” “this is boring”. I’m reading all these tells and it’s exhausting. If I’m not reading something overt I’m making up my own stories. I always assumed everyone does this, that everyone can tell more or less what anyone else is feeling. Perhaps it’s why I’m not always explicit in how I feel.
We are laying down to sleep. It’s hot here by the shore. There is a dog barking. Bugs biting. I’m challenged to sleep. I get up, I’m restless and angry for it. I take a cold shower. It’s cold but doesn’t cool me.
Sleep eventually comes.
We wake early and are out at a decent time. I’m anxious to get home, to move, to make progress.
I temper it, no need to be a brat. It’s flat and we move fast. Small town roads turn into country roads until we weave our way to the plantation.
Grids of trees in a lifeless forest, save the squirrel monkeys commuting in the canopy. Curious and afraid of us.
This grid of trees is where palm oil comes from, the small red orange fruit contains the oil. I taste one and it’s awful. A dead coral snake collects dust in the road. This world is so different from most of our hike. The forest creates an infinite pattern of disorder–chaos. Here is order. Life made a factory. Hegemony, a fractal of my society. It’s remarkably still. Back to the real world.
But it keeps the sun off our backs. Progress.
A main road, fast cars and small shoulders. Lunch at a fancy restaurant. I have pico de gallo served out of a coconut along with almost half of the fried chicken from my dad’s plate.
A little bit further down the busy road and we reach the bridge into Quepos. Past the beachfront Christmas tree we stop in front of the big Quepos sign and celebrate.
End of hike.
Pose for pictures under the sign, high five, and hug.
Bus stations and quickly Orlando is gone. We soon too are on a bus. It’s already becoming a memory.
Recreated upon retelling, less struggle and more beauty each time.
Mar a Mar, sea to sea.