Johnny drives us the 3.5 hours to Cahuita. San Jose is quiet at 6 in the morning, but joggers and cyclists are brightly making their way along the narrow streets. When the city ends the true nature of this land is loud and green, thick and reaching into the sky for a hundred feet or more. Misty jungle, mud and roots. Nothing bare, save for the tallest volcanoes, but even then, the soil is dark and only seen from the air. Life is dense here, in that everything is so intricately woven, from the vines to the fungus that grows. Giant serrated leaves as big as torsos lean into the road. Sombrilla de pobre, Johnny calls them, which can be interpreted to mean many different things: the poorman’s umbrella, poor sunshade, shade of the poor, etc. An image comes to mind, leather skin and dreaming eyes, sitting against the steep mud walls that were cut for this very mountain pass. Maybe a woman. One leaf she pulls closer to her head to keep away the monotony of rain or sun.
Green cauliflower canopies, volcanoes either dead or spewing ash. Giant bamboo (the largest of the grass family) grow in cohorts, large circular bases with their weight up top slowly drooping outward. Lean cows graze. Hints of agriculture. Banana farms for miles, each tree bearing large banana bunches, with bright blue bags to protect from bird and insect consumption (as blue does not occur naturally in the jungle).
Through the mountains we pass smaller cities and towns, see the lay of culture and financial circumstance: poverty. We see the Caribbean for the first time; the black sand beaches, white sand beaches; Afro-Caribbean men and women, their children, born into a place of vastness, open horizons to fish, dense jungle to gather fruit. The smells of wood are all around. It’s humid. The road turns to dirt and stone, and erosion from the rain leaves pot holes. We pull up to a wide driveway with a large green gate, a grand entrance. We pass the main house on the property, Todd’s house (Johnny’s dad), and drive through a car-width driveway through the dense trees. It opens up and there sits a house on stilts, Johnny’s bachelor pad, all made from wood on their land. Up the stairs and inside he has a TV and a PlayStation, some chairs, breakfast bar, full kitchen, a spacious bedroom and full bath. Johnny had it cleaned for us to have to ourselves for 3 weeks, as he will stay with his dad next door. It starts to feel even more like a honeymoon paradise.
Before bed we chase cockroaches around the house with brooms and the Costa Rican version of Raid. Patrick manages to break the broomstick.
I woke up to another world. The bed faces a large window open to the yard, the road hidden by a wall of trees, and then ocean. So you fall asleep and wake to the trees and a distant edge of ocean. A moth larger than the palm of my hand sleeps, wings open, on the window screen. There is no glass for windows here, no need, it never gets cold enough. A peacock caws soothingly in the distance. Birds, in every tree, alight in their never ending loops of melody. The waves gently hiss along the sand, a hundred yards from Johnny’s door. Crickets and insects I could never imagine. There are always sounds. The Earth is very much alive. Geckos chirp. The toucan’s call is much like a broken record, sharp and short in its song, repeating for an hour at a time. Ants always bite first. Plants grow anywhere and everywhere. They grow in the gutters of the roof or along large tree limbs. If fallen leaves and dead plant material collect in a nook long enough, something will grow.
Patrick readies water for tea, then suddenly shouts, jumping back. Below the sink, on the cupboard, is a wolf spider the size of his hand. It scurries for shelter in the corner and manages to catch itself a cockroach.
We decide to visit the beach. Coconut trees are everywhere. Pipas, or young coconuts, are for drinking, not really for cooking. Johnny climbs up a short tree and plucks one off, smashes it against the trunk and starts gulping down fresh coconut water. We quickly follow suit.
The ocean is warm. The sand, black and hot. We walk down the beach a little and Johnny throws a stick into a tree, knocking off these little grape-sized fruits. Sea grapes, he calls them, and yeah, they are basically salty grapes. Back at his house he names off all these types of palm trees: fan palm, lipstick palm, ponytail palm, royal palm, traveler palm, Alexander palm, fishtail palm, etc. – all planted by his dad more than 20 years ago. There are also mango trees, papaya, guayaba (guava), banana, Jurassic-looking fig trees, sugar apple, and a very large and prominent avocado tree in front of this house. Unfortunately we just missed the avocado season, but he managed to save us two, and they were half the size of footballs and absolutely delicious.
Days begin to blend together. Nights feel as warm as the days. “You think about touching your arm and you start to sweat,” Patrick plights. The ocean has a strong rip-tide if you’re not careful. There’s broken surf from storms out in deep ocean on some days, and others it’s as flat as a lake. We often spend our time at the beach trying to body-surf. Yet Patrick has to leave his glasses on the beach, has no contacts, and therefore is fairly blind, watching shadows of waves approach him. But the waves are small at this time of year, no more than 2 feet. Sometimes I wait on the beach and watch. I see Patrick scanning the sand for me. I must be a blurry figure, but it’s enough to keep him from drifting too far with the undertow.
One morning, I awoke to a comment written on my story about my own wedding (Paradise in Motion). It took me by surprise, yes, because it was written in a manner to insult me. My wedding is my own and I wrote about it in my own way, yet someone was so…offended? Disgusted? Jealous? I don’t know their reason, but whatever it was, it was enough for them to leave a very judgemental and (unwarranted) authoritative comment. I immediately thought of a quote from Louise Bourgeois: “It is not so much where my motivation comes from but rather how it manages to survive.” In college I was drawn to this quote, but I admit that I couldn’t truly apply it to my own life then. So I had a eureka moment that morning. I immediately began to feel what all writers in the industry must feel: sharp and sometimes unjust criticism, hate, or simply bad manners, really. This is the first of many, I thought. I will look back at this moment and know exactly when it truly began. I will have books and poetry published; I will be a known face among the crowd and when asked about dealing with criticism and hate, I will have the perfect example. Thank you, stranger.
People will troll and people will waste energy on comments that are only meant to insult. But this commenter, I will confidently say, is a coward. Why? Because they disguised their identity and created a fake email address. If you are a true authority, please, let me learn from you. Mentor me and show me prose that you praise as worthy. If you’re a fellow writer, don’t leave me hanging. But if you had really wanted to insult me and my wedding day, you would have admitted knowing me by giving your name. That would have hurt. To see a name I know. I have inklings, but who cares. I am not embarrassed by my writing. I’m sorry that you are. Did your heart pound when you typed it in? Did your hands sweat and blood boil? Does me getting married make you hateful? Does my style make you cringe? I consider my writing successful then. It made you feel truly human. Please feel free to buy my books in the future.
Rain. Warm rain. Birds still sing. Leaves become cadence. Waves still crash. Mosquitoes still bite. But the jungle is truly a beautiful place. Green, mossy hallways of life. Termites are everywhere, their tunnels up every tree, even to Johnny’s house. Howling monkeys start chanting before dawn, every morning. Here, that is between 4-430am.
Days are slow, very slow. But rain now doesn’t mean rain tomorrow. Salt eats away the silverware, the wood, your clothes, your hair. Frogs appear in the bathroom. Toads hide during the day.
Sunset happens fast and suddenly it’s too dark to write. But the clouds continue to reflect what they can, and I pen a few more lines. That the trees are my horizon, the rain and jungle my reminder that noise can be good; that I am nothing new and I have nothing new to give. The echoing chirps and tweets of insect, frog, bird – they are all not my creation. But how I write them down changes everything. They are no longer taps on my ear but a dark line of ink for the eye. Permanent and beautifully dark. My ears are worth more than my eyes now. Dogs bark to break the monotony of the ruckus. Tiny milieus of insect and soil expand and die all at once, all crowded, creating wisdom among this horizon of trees. I must listen. Close my eyes and melt away, let the sounds eat away these walls. Through the darkness there is life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.