Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A world away

When my family decided to book a vacation in Costa Rica I thought I could find a native storyteller or two, but that, sadly, did not happen.  There was not enough time and this was a family vacation.  But I have come home with a desire to return to Costa Rica and learn Spanish. Not in that order!

We read up a fair amount before taking off for these foreign climes, so we might understand the culture we were about to explore.  We read and were told that there is a thing called Tico-Time!  People of Costa Rica are very friendly and laid back.  We were told that if you want someone to show up, they may not be on time (at least not Western time, but on Tico-Time).  We never found this, everyone was very punctual.  However, whilst waiting for a ferry as we traveled from Curu to San Jose, I was in a line with a bunch of people from all over and learned another part of Tico-Time.  This was my second time in the line, getting a second cup of Costa Rican coffee (in my mind, the best coffee on the planet - even the bad ferry port coffee was really good).  The line was not moving fast due to some of the none Spanish speaking tourists who panic and look blankly at the Costa Rican's with wide eyes!  One guy was getting really up-set.  The ferry was close to leaving, but I watched the three folk in front of me fuddle their way through their breakfast order and get to the check out. Meanwhile the other guy, Mr. Upset, was getting more and more agitated.  In the end he leaned between the group of men and me, jumping the line in quite a major way, ordered a soda, paid and left.  On the ferry I saw him and discovered he was not a native, but an American!  He was the only one NOT chilled out and NOT on Tico-Time.  I guess he was starting his vacation, or had lost some surfing contest!

This really is a land to watch and listen to.  We traveled by taxi, micro-bus and regular bus with a backpack on myself, a backpack on my wife, and with the kids carrying day packs; traveling light.  Walking through forests, or sitting on beaches, and even climbing up volcano's or sitting by the pool, if you stopped and watched and listened, you saw and heard so much.  As I sat alone one morning, on the beach at the Curu Refuge I noticed a hermit crab climbing over the rocks and stones.  As I sat still and watched this little fellow make his way along the shore, I noticed another, and another.  Then, as I broadened my view, I realized the rocks were a hive of activity with hundreds of hermit crabs moving around almost invisible blending into the rocks and stones they traveled over.

In the forest we heard rustling. Turning around to our sides we saw a very different crab.  These crabs were blue or purple in their bodies, with bright orange or red legs - not water crabs, but forest crabs - congrejo.  They rattled over the dry forest leaves and fallen palm fronds.  Hundreds of them, running and hiding or bolting back into the holes they lived in.  We realized that first evening there that the holes around our cabina were not lizard holes, but homes for these crab.  We came back to find the concrete floored porch, and screen door covered in the congrejos.  It was like a sci-fi movie or Hitchcock film as we chased them away and they rattled and clattered back to their burrows.

Volcan Chato
I imagine the first Europeans to visit Costa Rica thought that the forests there were filled with demons: the eery screams and barking that come from deep between the trees.  Well there might be demons but we only saw, and heard, howler monkeys.  From the noise they make you would think they were giant monsters, with frighteningly sharp teeth.  But no!  Over-sized if they were large dogs, shy and those who are not shy, very friendly!  We were so lucky to have many howler encounters.  We watched as they danced from tree to tree, in a way Ananzi would be proud!  We saw a mother carrying, with great care and agility, her young one.  And they watched us too.

The sounds, once you got used to them, were like songs, the sites like a dance.  The scuttling crabs, the howlers had their language and at first we were wide-eyed. But the more we listened, the more we heard the songs and understood the language: the songs of the birds, the songs of the fish, the dance of the incredible flora and exotic birds, the songs of the forests and the songs of the people and the beautiful dances their joyful faces made. I have a desire to return to Costa Rica and learn Spanish. Not in that order!


Carolyn Stearns said...

My daughter was there a number of years ago and sported fruit stains on a shirt from when her group got close to a monkey and baby! Momma just says keep your distance trail walkers. Since they were on a trail there was no where else to go, the stains were a souvenir to tell a story about.

Jeff gere said...

It is always a pleasure to read the impressions of a person (known or not) who have eyes and hearts open and confront another reality. I enjoyed this brief visit to Costa Rica. Thanks