For none other reason than what can be described as a period of self-absorption, I made far less of an investigation into Costa Rican culture than I could have. I say this without regret. As it turns out, the excess of hours I’d spent looking inwards had in fact given me such a perfect lack of time that I was unable to assume the advertised experience would unfold around me. For those of us whose throats swell up and eyes glow wide at the prospect of touching down on foreign soil, there is usually a page of ‘have to do’s’. I am ordinarily among those travellers. My sister longed to awe at the sloth’s graceful speed. My mother, to lounge in the thermal pools of Arenal. As usual, Dad would stare down each landscape like it might pull apart into jigsaw pieces, right before his sunburnt eyes. And I, with my empty list, would unknowingly enter the rainforest to discover that I was exactly where I needed to be: without expectation. The redundancy of organising boxes for ticking became as apparent to me in the outdoors as nothing in the jungle ever would be. Wild things cannot be forecasted, and the thick curtains of the Strangler figs would expose, or hide, only the inhabitants that allowed it.
Looking back, being as unprepared as I was to peer inside Central America’s effervescent wardrobe was perhaps the greatest way to be, for numerous reasons. As we and three other families were whisked up out of San Jose’s Central Valley together towards the Doka estate coffee plantation, I was already thankful for my lack of preparation. No sight warms me more than a nation’s compromise for nature’s sake. As a city dweller, a skyline lights my eyes far less than any empty field ever could. On day two, turning back to watch the concrete of the capital roll away like rubble down an emerald plane, it was already clear to me that the land itself was the law.‘Pura vida’. We learned the traditions of the coffee trade and basked in the birth of each bean and every brew, drinking peaberries black (menos leche), until our hands began to twitch.
Day 3/4. The Caribbean highways that led to Tortuguero vibrated with life on every plane. Originally, in the 1960’s, the waterways were dug to make a maze for the transportation of lumber. I closed my eyes, and felt the gravity of the great unknown. Though it was ours to squint at through sunglasses and camera lenses, one truly got the sense of being at nature’s mercy here. And while ‘sloth, sloth, sloth’ titered on my sisters waggling tongue, we all bathed in the knowledge that here, the earth was truly apex. It was not ours to acquire, but to float through and enjoy the mystery of.
As one can imagine, it felt like a betray to the spirit of Los Canales, to later learn along the journey toward Tortuguero National Park that the country may agree with China to further expand these oceanic causeways. As the boat buzzed along, coevolution was unfolding before our unseeing eyes in any, and every kaleidoscopic colour. It was the home of a thousand greens, a million eyes. To the people, these forested banks were another reason to take pride in their national land. Another breath of protected air. Another gift of pure life.
While of course no guide could know the precise nature of what swam beneath, the integrity with which the locals adorned these watery paths was as clear as the sea that they lead to. Each held their knowledge of what sat, flew and dove amongst the vibrant growth as though it may bite, should they forget the shape of a tail, or stripe on a feather. The children eventually retired from their interrogations, becoming humbly satisfied with the responses they received to even menial, trail questions. Being as we were, utterly charmed by the freedom of Costa Rica’s untamed things, our spotting of the charming three-toed sloth (a baby, nonetheless) came as an even greater marvel. Had the boat capsized at any moment and left us there to watch the skillful creature descend for hours, we all would have waited. Along the water’s edge, the birds fished and herons flew. Each of us knew then, that if these were the last living creatures to grace us on the trip, the moment was ours to enjoy.
That evening, as we guzzled guaro until our tongues got tangled, the rain ran away with all of our walls. We were no longer waiting, peering, leering or perching into the window of wild things. Every day in the midst of each moving landscape was another chance to lavish in the whims of everything beyond ourselves. And as my head grew heavy with gratitude that evening, I fell into bed to dream only of waking.
I imagined that someone had possibly been screaming in my sleep, during some lucid fantasy – the common consequence of alcohol and introspection. The feral shrieking from outside however was on this occasion very much in existence. As a chick newly sprung from its shell, I tore myself upright in the stale air and lifted my chin, angling damp ears and a stiff, jolted neck towards the window to assess my sobriety and surroundings. As a pretty opportunistic individual, I usually take it upon myself to bellow some remark about inconsideration from a half-cut belly, when awoken from a boozy sleep. But I darent provoke the menacing howlers out of the forested shadows. Had I the stomach for just one more Mai Tai anoche, I would still be disinclined to project my usual righteous-woken-up-pissed-off screech. The natives had sent an early morning message: though you cannot see us, we are here.
Truth being told, on the ride to Tortuguero National Park I could have drank more water. By the time we got to tiptoeing along the Caribbean shore, I was dehydrated. We rustled clumsily along in the seamless sand, a band of second-string 00 Agents, to watch the green-turtles emerge from the warm waves. A combination of salty air and anticipation cracked my thin lips quicker than a sip of the ocean itself, and, crouching under the cover of coconut trees, with their infinite trunks that touched the sky, I watched (what I could make out of it) roll. The sea is possibly the only form of water that one can watch for hours and forget their own thirst. We took up our posts and waited for the tame tide to reveal its precious luggage like an organic and unpredictable coastal conveyer belt. By now, the waiting was for all of us a wonder in itself. To want, and receive only at the will of the waves.
2 hours later, fluttering from our portable radio above the silent beach, vamanos was as universal then as it ever could be. The nesting season night-guards had given their signal: the turtles had landed. Taking their word that her self-induced trance would make us no nuisance, (in as dignified a manner as is possible to modern man) we edged towards her.
I feel inclined to interject at this point that the moment was utterly peaceful. ‘Natural’, would perhaps be an inherently fraudulent claim, but – with the exception of human childbirth, – I am humbled to accept my eyes may never know as raw, as real a sight as the great green turtle nesting. An 160kg shelled sea creature, she laid her offspring down into the earth like miniature moon. Beneath the sand, her eggs would wait to burst the surface with their brilliant, unpaired light.
For once, I, the girl with with too much to say, tasted no words at all. As she retreated to the sea with our tongues in toe, we fled the beach. A silent assertion was whispered through the muted harmony of our minds: nothing that belonged to man could materialise the essence of our experience, as the future nestled in the sand.