Todd starts talking about the use of pesticides on fruit as he drives us to Limón. “Don’t ever buy non-organic bananas,” he warns. “I’ve seen them do some crazy things. They’ll even drill holes in the stalks and inject poison. It’s bad. And they claim it doesn’t get into the fruit,” he scoffs, “Never eat bananas that aren’t organic, man.” Banana farms are vast and dense here, the primary company being Chiquita, one actually based in the United States. Johnny expresses how the farms are bad for the environment, not only because of the amount of toxins they use, but also because of the loss of jungle and lack of biodiversity it creates.
“Diversity is strength,” Patrick adds, flexing his E-Bio degree, “If stressors were to arise, greater diversity translates to a higher chance of survival for a given species. I had no idea it was that bad for bananas, but it makes sense.”
We drive through town and Todd drops us off along the side of the bus terminal, cars and cops bustling around. We grab our bags and say our goodbyes. Johnny is coming with us as he is also flying to the States for a short weekend in Florida. We pay 50 cents each to use the bathroom, then buy our tickets for the 3-hour bus ride to San José. I watch pigeons fly in and out. Tile floors are common, even in public spaces. The walls are painted green and curbs are yellow. There are bread vendors and little shops selling soda and candy. Just another busy day. The security guards yield batons. The locals are wearing their best designer jeans, heels or wedges. Families look groomed, little boys with combed hair and girls in their cutest dresses. They all carry grocery bags full of snacks for their journy. The bus arrives. It has no air-conditioning. Johnny, Patrick, and I are assigned seats in the very back so we can all sit together. Patrick stretches his legs out, as there’s nothing in front of us except stairs for a rear door. “If I need to throw up I’ll have all this space,” he crudely jokes.
An elderly woman sits near us with numerous bags of bread. The bus isn’t full yet so Johnny spreads himself out along the other seats in this last row. Patrick opens all the windows he can reach for a cross breeze and we settle in. It’s time to depart. The woman starts reading the newspaper. A dad tries to lean back all the chairs for his 4 children. There’s chatter. Wrappers. I stare out the window. Trash lines the alleyways. We pass the Latin Girls Night Club. Gatorade bottles, juice boxes, creole skin. We pass a graveyard, all the tombs above ground, white and aged. The roof escape-hatch to the bus reads, “Está malo, no abre. Gracias.” I sink lower into my chair, become a passive traveler, wait for the countryside.
Weed whackers wear long aprons, long sleeves, gloves, and a netted face mask. They are everywhere, cutting grass right along the highway. No signs warning drivers, no extra fines for hitting them. But thankfully there are no fumar signs on all the buildings. We pass a large facility with high-security gates. “It looks like a prison but it’s actually the power company,” Patrick laughs, pointing to the ICE logo. The other monopoly here is Dos Pinos, and they rule everything dairy.
We make several stops picking up more passengers along the way. People have to stand. Our tires screech and people stretch their necks to look around. No one knows why, maybe someone cut us off. The dad assures his children and describes to them that they are smelling burnt rubber. No one wants to die, even if you’re from another country. Silly to say, yes, and to me it is painfully obvious. We are all human. But I wish people back home would understand this – understand how the rest of the world lives and works. I slouch more, let my legs rest as they please. We finally make it to the windy jungle road.
“It smells like shit,” Johnny cringes. “It’s pig shit,” Patrick says, and sure enough our bus driver passes a truck filled with pigs. I was impressed, but I knew that Patrick used to work on a hog farm. The bus driver puts the pedal to the metal once again to pass a slow semi-truck in the right lane. We’re in the designated passing lane, but a sedan appears to our right, trying to beat us to the punch. Suddenly we’re splitting the lane for oncoming traffic. The sedan thought it was a good idea to try and squeeze in-between us and the semi. I’m sure the sedan was horrified with his decision, though, with two large vehicles inches away from either side of his car. The sedan makes his way out and pulls over. The bus stops, too, and the driver scans the side of his bus for damage, but sees nothing. He scolds the sedan and then blasts off to make up for lost time.
We taxi twice through San José; the first guy didn’t know where he was going. It’s raining, as if we never left. Streets are already flooding and we splash through small streams. The water is as brown and milky as the jungle rivers. We arrive back to Finca Laurel, waterlogged grass and mud. The same old cat sits on her favorite wicker chair. The same nebula of spiders between the trees. It begins to rain harder, then turns to a mist. We catch up with Laurel, then she returns to her work. Johnny begins to express how, due to his back injuries, he finds it hard to dedicate himself to one thing in life, like how Patrick has dedicated himself to climbing so passionately.
“If you only take climbing trips, or take trips based on one thing, you miss out on so many other opportunities. You won’t have your eyes wide open, and that gets to me,” Johnny states.
“Well we all understand that we need exercise,” Patrick replies, “and if I have to exercise and understand myself physically, overcome fear and all those things, climbing just so happens to give me all those obstacles. And I think it’s one thing to understand that something can happen to you down the road, and to prepare yourself mentally to overcome those obstacles in order to move on – I mean, you should definitely prepare yourself for adaptation; but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to adapt before the pressure comes. I just love climbing so much, and it gives me so much passion and happiness – it’s what makes me feel the world is worth saving. And it feeds a lot of the other dreams I have. Sure, maybe I’ll pick up fishing again and other things down the road, but I have such focus right now. I’ve been there, where I wanted to do everything, and I ended up doing nothing. I was too divided. No passion.”
“I just don’t think it’s good to be attached to anything, you know. You’ll be heartbroken when you lose it, and that’s when you really have to test yourself.”
“Sure, yeah. But if you give yourself a back door then you never commit yourself completely,” Patrick says, “If you don’t do that, and you risk the big fall, risking not being able to do that activity anymore, at least you can say that you committed. You can’t blame yourself for falling, for failing, or for giving up too easily. I understand you, though, and in a way we’re both right.”
“Well when I think about climbing and how it’s more than just physical, how it’s a place for your soul, really, I wonder about other experiences I may have missed out on that could have potentially been just as satisfactory. I’ve come to believe that we have to let go a little bit to move forward in other ways, because we don’t have enough time in our lives. But don’t get me wrong, I love climbing still,” Johnny laughs and begins to set the table.
“I know you do. I just know that for me, the stronger I get, the more addicted I become. If I don’t focus on it, I would regret never knowing when that ‘getting stronger’ ends, if it even ever would. If you’re worried about potential, you should actually focus on something long enough to find out if there’s even potential there. Otherwise, it’s a wash. The way you’re thinking now is how I was before I took climbing seriously,” Patrick assures Johnny. “I know you’re in a strange place right now. With all these realizations and responsibilities…” Our seafood orders are delivered and I devour my fried-rice, and continue to sip my hot tea with milk and honey, listening to these two men talk about exposure and self-fulfillment.
Later in the evening we watch The Red Violin, one of Johnny’s favorite movies. Laurel has made us homemade wraps for dinner. We hunch over our hot beverages. Elbows holding us up. Laughter. Patrick’s usual silliness. Laurel talks about “keeping the mystery,” and how sacred the unknown is. She couldn’t speak truer words.
We watch the spiders in the morning. See Johnny off. We wander the garden until Laurel needs to go to PriceSmart, a sister company to Costco. Things are more expensive in this store than they’d be in the States, surprisingly. We wanted to buy Costa Rican coffee beans in bulk. We also had U.S. cash to pay with, which apparently this store loves and they give a phenomenal exchange rate. When it comes time to check out we hand over 2 twenty-dollar bills and the cashier studies them, then hands one back. She won’t take it because of a micro tear near one of the corners. Laurel trades my twenty for one of hers. The cashier shakes her head again, it has a pink marker dot on it. I couldn’t believe it. Their standards for acceptable dollars are unrealistic, but, granted, their reasons are probably due to a large amount of counterfeit money that shows up. I had to pay half in dollars and half in colónes.
Through town we see more traffic, more barred windows. Laurel talks about car theft and how when going to some grocery stores, a guard will give you a card to hold onto while you’re shopping. Then when you drive out, you return the card, proving that you are the owner of the car. The culture here is apparently one of “you lose, you snooze.” She has witnessed someone dropping a phone and in the same instant someone else snatching it up and running off.
We turn a corner and a cop is standing in the middle of the road. A motorcycle is in front of us. The cop holds his palm out, ordering him to stop, but he doesn’t. He motors around him and keeps on going. The cop hops on his bike and tries to follow. It made me wonder – what if that motorcycle hadn’t been in front of us when we came around the corner? Was he just preying on the next vehicle he saw? Bribes are normal here, so maybe he was hungry for some extra cash. Who knows…
Time is fast, then slow, then fast again. Three weeks is nothing now. We are finally at the airport after a lazy afternoon. A man plays the marimba to backup tracks. He wears a suit. The sound is soothing, rhythmic, with a final flair of art and culture before we set off to California. No one seems to be listening except me.
We buy pre-made sandwiches from Quizno’s for $5 a piece, a lunch-box sized bag of chips for $3, and a snickers bar for $3.50. I ask Patrick what he has taken away from his experience here. He talks about how sad the gap is between the rich and the poor. The cost of food outweighs income. He’s sad for the degree of corruption and how stealing is relatively accepted. There’s an overflow of stray cats and dogs. No zoning laws, rich mansions next to slums. Yet, people are happy, and genuine, good people, do exist, especially when you get away from the cities. As things become globalized, we can only hope that fear of others will end. Overall, Patrick feels humbled, has a newfound appreciation for what we have back in the States. Things like air-conditioning and trash pickup. I felt the same way my first time abroad to Latin America, and I enjoy coming back for this purpose alone, to be reminded of how I have nothing to complain about. Greed is everywhere, sure, but the amount of discontent in a rich country like the United States is appalling.
“Soy la productiva de tu imaginación,” was something I read during our taxi ride here. It was graffitied onto a brick wall between iron bars to doors and windows. I ponder about consciousness, my consciousness, specifically. Everything I see and feel is a product of my mind, more or less, at least the way I interpret the world, right? Is consciousness inherently comfort seeking? Was I born in the United States at random, or was it my own will to be in such a comfortable place? I’ve opened a can of worms, of course, implying a soul and reincarnation, or divine intervention. But basically – how did I get so damn lucky?
Ocean cloud, airplane sunset. I imagine an endless herd of sheep, heads hidden beneath their companions’ overgrown wool. Patrick sits next to the window. I am in the middle seat and have just finished reading Over the Edge by Greg Child. I contemplate journalism and whether I should pursue a Masters or just take a few specialized classes, for the sake of reinvigoration and a fresh input on ways to think and write.
The cabin darkens, the sun finally sets. I scan a true horizon from up here, a round edge of Earth. I sip black tea, cream, sugar. Patrick now reads from where he left off. A woman in the row in front of me uses her laptop, types away at a document. The characters are foreign to me. I ignorantly assume it is Chinese, but I honestly don’t know. Across the plane from me, a man uses his phone with large, black headphones. In front of him, another man watches a movie on a tablet he rented. Earbuds in. Others read. Others can’t help but sleep. The night is here. Chatter dulls. Into the mind we all go. And whether reflective or passive, we all stare at something plastic, or succumb to an A/C blasted slumber.
Drink service has already made their rounds twice. The young flight attendants chat in the back and play games on their phones. I use the restroom and clean up after people before me. There are empty seats on the plane and some have reorganized themselves with those they know. The gentleman who had been assigned to my right has been gone since lift-off. I use his seat to store trash for the time being. I pull out the airline magazine and find that the crossword and Sudoku puzzles in the back are the same ones I completed 3 weeks ago. But we are changed, despite our brief exodus.
Everyone here has their own story, their own origin, but these details don’t matter here. This is a five hour plane ride in space-time limbo, where we are one unit, connected by circumstance. The human experience is often shared even among strangers, like it or not, and we affect each other. We all are chasing something, even sleep or solitude. We exit the known micro-universe via metal tube, reentering at a place of our choosing. You get to watch the clouds the whole way, or the night – a bigger mystery. But in this limbo, you are forced to be present with the passage of time. Things are certainly happening below us, such as hate and war, or grace and abundance. But all we know is the tray in front of us and how much our back hurts, or our ass. And despite beliefs and upbringings, or Facebook, you can look across the aisle and make eye contact and say hello.
Yet, what makes me sad is that when all this is done, we go back to our bubbles, our influences and tightly locked minds. People troll the internet for argument and malice. They are reminded how much they hate others and shut their doors, talk shit, talk dirty, and teach their children that being angry and stale is the path through life. Shut-down. Two-faced. Judgemental. In Costa Rica I was free from the politics and now we’re heading back to the land of hissing cats. I will witness a world that generations before me helped create. Elders will claim to love their (grand)children and live for their families but vote to keep their lives selfishly the same. Selfishly for money. Selfishly for pride. Selfishly for religion their children no longer believe. Selfishly for corporations and agendas that wish to destroy the Earth their children currently seek refuge in, find solace. They forget, in those moments, that their children are the future, that they’ve lived their lives and now must hand over the world to the youth they claim to love. They say they love, but do not bend over backwards for their children’s social tolerances and desires for well-being.
I find sleep here and there. We are almost home. I think of ways people find happiness. In the States, you are forced to contribute even when you’re dirt poor. In Costa Rica, if you’re poor you can live off the grid and no one will bother you. You can find happiness in your friends and in the beach. Catch lobsters or tuna from your little boat. Have peace. There was a woman I saw at lunch one day, she was older and was redoing her already caked mascara. She had done everything she could to hide her age, to look glamorous and Western. She reminded me of those back home who can never have enough or be content with who they are. She wanted youth, maybe because she didn’t have much when she was younger. Speculation? Regardless, can I blame her for holding on? I don’t know her. I hope she does what she wants and I hope that she is happy. People will find happiness in all the corners of the world, many under circumstances others find stressful or intolerable. I find happiness in the little things, like black tea and climbing rope. I try to mind my own business and write romantic nonsense of nature. I dream of working for myself and taking advantage of what youth I still have. Johnny is right about life being too short. We all know better.
And sure, I am no one, but I am happy and I am free.