Monday, March 9, 2009

Caribbean Part 2

We left for Cahuita at a decent hour the next day. I left my wallet at the bus stop, loosing money for the second time that trip. My losses totaled to 5,935 colones (about 11 dollars), an expired drivers license, a health insurance card, a few odd receipts, the house key to my home in the US, and the bottle opener that I keep attached to my key ring. It was the first time the whole weekend that I’d been glad that I’d forgotten my credit card.
Cahuita was much more what we’d been expecting from the Caribbean. 10 times sleepier. We ate our rice and beans, the napped on the beach during the occasional stretches of sun, and retired earlier. We spent a good portion of the night sitting on the porch of our room surrounded by the warm air and even warmer smell of fresh baked bread, sipping tea from mismatched mugs or dented tin cups, listening to the rain and counting the rare star that made its way through the clouds.
The next day, our final as we decided, we breakfasted on bananas and weaseled our way into the Afro-Caribbean Historical museum, which was ostensibly closed. Old things were arranged in a sensible chaos along wood walls which were painted a bright turquoise and the proprietor, Sankey gave us a brief history/explanation, laced with political digressions, while his cohort chatted with two of the girls with true Caribbean hospitality.
Eventually we thanked him, promising to return and hold him to his promise of live music and ventured back out into the rain to hike through the national park along the seashore. The walk started out well enough, sandy trail, glimpses of the sea and a canopy of lush, vibrant green. The flora was plentiful, but the fauna was scarce, as was expected. We’ve been in Costa Rica for six weeks now, but the closest we’ve ever come to the exciting wildlife are blobs of sloth or monkey in distant trees which we totally would have missed but for our keen-eyed guides.
But here the path is blocked by a river. Shoes off, we ford across, the very picture of intrepid explorers. I waded through with my shoes slung around my neck and my arms held high to protect my camera from non-existent rapids, which was probably a little more dramatic than the crossing deserved, but man, if you’ve gotta ford a river, you might as well ford the hell out of it.
We continued our trek, the forest becoming darker and more tangled with every step. I started humming. Whoop de do. I wanna be like yooOOoo. I wanna WALK like you TALK like you… shoopbedoop! The path becomes muddier. Most of us are still barefoot from the crossing. With each step I take through the thick brown water, I have to force myself to not think about whatever is in the mud that I can’t see. Each time I raise my foot, I expect to see it covered in leeches and each time I put it down, I do it gingerly, expecting to impale myself on some jungle spike. The path has turned away from the water, and all around us is nothing but thick, vine-y jungle. Eventually it becomes so swamped that they have built bridges. By now, half of our party has turned back, leaving just four. I’m the slowest, picking my way not only around the mud as best I can, but also along the bridges, whose boards have bent up at the edges, exposing their corners to unsuspecting feet. After three or four of these bridges, we stop. In the quiet the only thing we can hear is the faint buzzing of any number of insect. Mostly mosquitoes, as we find out seconds later. Apparently even the worst of the REI’s DEET laced bug juice can’t stave off these suckers. We turn back, fleeing to the sanctuary of the beach. And just before we reach the fording river, we see a group of tourists perched on the cement rim of a small, murky pool. Vaguely I recall passing it before and one of us wrote it off as a “pre-Columbian” ruin(ish). Apparently, we were wrong. As they drew their feet out of its bottomless depths, the hikers explained to us that it was a hot spring. And was it ever! I was more than happy to apologize to my feet by immersing them in the warm water that felt and smelled of mineral.
Eventually we reluctantly pulled our feet out and continued on.
“Of course I’d invite Jesus to my dinner party. Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Einstein…”
“It’s so hard. I feel like I’d like alone time with each of the people I want to invite.”
“That’s the thing about the dinner party; you have to think of all aspects of it. How your guests will get along, the direction of the conversation, the food…. You’re a host, it’s a party. These are all considerations.”
“So do you have your five yet, Maggie?”
“Yep. Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Zelda, Oscar Wilde and one of them can bring a friend. I think it would be fantastic night, because they were all really intelligent and they all really liked booze-fueled discussions of literature, music, history, philosophy and the like. Plus, they were all part of the celebrity intelligentsia set, and would probably know other famous people eating at the tables around us and would introduce me. And then we’d all end the night dancing with the waiters and inviting the taxi-cab driver to the after-party. I’m pretty excited about it.”
The close of the day found us slumped against our backpacks and the walls of the bus station, waiting for the 4:30 to take us back to San Jose. We didn’t say much, mostly reviewed pictures or just sat and stared at the puddles that perfectly mirrored our surroundings. Sinking into the bus seats for the 5 hour drive back, I felt like I’d been standing for days. And the gentle rocking of the bus through the dark and the rain seemed a perfect ending to a long and eventful trip.
Oh but it wasn’t over. I never expected the taxi ride back to be anything but more of the same, but I should have known that there would be no sleepy drive ahead of me when the taxi driver suggested 6,000 colones was a reasonable price and Emily pulled me off in a huff. We only had 5.700 on us, and that seemed an outrageous amount for a taxi ride which had never cost us more than 4,000 colones. So when we finally chose a taxi, we were surprised when the meter started increasing rapidly. All our calm was erased as we anxiously watched it pass 2,500 and then 3,000.
“What if we don’t have enough?” I whispered.
“I don’t know man…”
4,000… we’re close to home, but at the rate the fare was going, we may not make it.
“Aquí?” The driver glances into the rearview mirror.
“Sí, sigue 500 metros… y luego… no! Shoot, I’ll get off at the corner. Here! Aquí! Stop!”
“I tumble out of the cab, half a block from my house and frantically trying to relate to the driver that he didn’t have to get out to get my backpack from the trunk. I could get it myself if it would save precious minutes that the meter was running. Hell, I’d do it running behind the taxi if he’d let me…
Finally I watched the taxi continue the 6 blocks up to Emily’s with unease. I’d left the meter at something like 4,900 colones. I kept my fingers crossed.
I found out the next day that Emily, too, had stopped the man at the entrance to her neighborhood. As soon as the meter reached 5,600 she’d yelled at him to stop, in English, the frenzy of the situation having rendered her Spanish-less, and by the time she’d managed to remember how to stop him in Spanish, it’d reached 5,700.
An appropriately exciting ending to an unexpectedly exciting vacation.

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