May

2

The goal of this segment along the Costa Rica Pacific after a hard month in the southern Central American jungles is rest and recovery. Granted, anticipation is greater than realization, but no one has ever spoken but glowingly of the five hundred mile stretch of whitecaps pounding the sun-baked beaches.

I board a luxury bus on the Pan American highway with reclining seats, steward, drinks and movies to the Paso Canoas crossing from Panama to Pacific Costa Rica. I’ve been a collector of Latin borders for decades where passions amplify actions. They used to be exciting; now they’re tedious and I carry reading material. Here is another no-mans land of unsigned huts, mean lines, cheating money changers, locals passing unchecked ad libitum, pawing scamps, greasy window officious beggars, and all the while eyeing with pity passers-by in the opposite direction. I insert myself into a Spanish romance.

It gets better. I catch a night bus over a pothole road to Puerto Jimenez that spills into the Pacific, yet the driver brakes before the ocean and discharges me, the sole passenger, onto the sand. I crack the guidebook under palms and moonlight where there’s a murmur, ‘Don’t say a word.’ I twirl and behold a white man in shaggy shorts and bare feet, who advises, ‘The cheapest hostel is fifty yards down the beach, the restaurants are closed, the girls are expensive, you can’t stay with me- I’m not gay, and there’s no way out except the way you came tomorrow.’ He bows and totters down the beach singing, ‘I bid you a good night.’

The thatched hostel on shaky stakes is a blessing for $10 although the matron accuses my moonlight guide of being the local ex-pat town drunkard who fell down on the shore two decades ago. After a good night’s rest, my foot alarm tickles one little piggy, two little piggies… I throw off eye blinders and behold golden sunshine. Life really is easy in beach paradise: Everyone gets up with the gulls, works like a dog until noon, and then goes to the beach to surf. A seashore sign with a bleaching arrow to Corcovado Parque Nacional advertises, ‘The last original great tract of tropical forest of the Pacific Central America’, however an ex-pat updates that a $10 entry fee is payable at the local bank that opens in an hour which is thirty minutes after the last transportation leaves for the park. Meanwhile, the waves curl nicely with cork surfers popping right and left before my eyes as a revelation hits like a thunderclap- Why do I want to sit on the beach?…I’m not out of money.

The ticket is a myopic squint down the shore at a ferry abutting a crumbling concrete pier. I amble the sand, board, and watch children dive off pilings for tossed coins with no blood to attract sharks until the 30’ Catamaran fills with Ticos (Costa Ricans) and ex-pats, a 75HP Johnson motor roars, and we glide 45 minutes across Golfo Dulce into backwater Colfito.

Two days later, I step from a rattletrap bus into Manuel Antonio Parque Nacional salivating from passenger testimonials, billboards, and the text that claim this tropical beach reserve offers prolific wildlife along carefully marked trails. The accurate report is that you wade knee deep a 10-meter estuary of sharp volcanic rocks to pay $7 at a hut, and get lost among throngs of bewildered international visitors on bare trails through secondary-growth forest. The sole animal spotted was a monkey perched atop an outdoor shower peering with bared teeth at a splashing overheated lady. Who knows how a monkey thinks, I ponder twenty minutes later wading out the park.

Bus after bus, always hugging the coast, days later the beach road strikes Nicoya Gulf in advance to a peninsula by the same name that juts like a bumpy thumb into the azul sea. Logistics become strenuous in a Port Puntarenas café by paying for a taco just for a lighted table out of the night wind to don two pairs of glasses and spread my map to discern a dotted line that starts near my feet, crosses the ten-mile gulf, and ends at Orange Beach on the peninsula.

‘You’ve got just enough time to catch the last ferry!’ yells the cabbie outside slamming the door, careening streets, and five minutes later I tip his enthusiasm, slam the door, and dash to a lifting gangplank. The 100’ old ironsides bobs but a minute more, ropes are heaved, and then she chugs ably across an inlet so wide and dark that an hour later standing alone on the second story bow I can’t make out the lights of either shore. An hour beyond, the engines slacken before the darkened Orange Beach. Ropes are thrown and lashed, we dock, and soon a dozen vehicles creep off until the last- meaning the first aboard- stops ashore next to me and a 30’s Tico sticks his head out the pickup window and shouts perfect English, ‘I’m an apiarist!’, as if it explains everything.

‘I study bees also,’ I hastily add, and demonstrate under starlight how they alight and sting and I record the sensations in relation to environments and species. ‘Yes! Fascinating creatures!’ he agrees, and lets me in the cab. As the truck bumps the coast north, he explains his rare English. He won an apiary scholarship to Israel for the two reasons of having a hundred word English vocabulary and being from a farm. He learned beekeeping and English in Isreal for a year, two more years on the Canadian clover plains, and returned to Nicoya peninsula. ‘If I say so, I’m a renown apiarist,’ he excites lecturing on how to distinguish Africanized bees by behavior and sting, thus confirming my theory that hot weather increases honeybee aggression so they may be mistaken for killers.

Before sunrise, we squeeze between windbreak trees onto a farm lane that rises up a knoll to a farmhouse where my benefactor knocks on the door. The surprised farmer opens, hugs him, and helps us unload a refrigerator from the pickup as a gift. In reciprocation, the farmer gives me a floor in the room of an empty house that he has hand-built alongside his own for his estranged wife. Do not be dismayed; this is backcountry duplex. She moved into the completed gift house, a year later his house became their home, and tonight her house becomes my bare floor. I lay almost in tears to be in a place where a man may show his devotion to a woman by materials and toil until she gives in. Outside, the beekeeper peels into the night to tend other peninsular hives, and my head hardly hits the cement when there’s a knock at the window accompanied by sunshine.

‘Venga!’ the farmer yells. He’s riding a motorcycle to town, and as there’s no other transport perhaps I want a lift. Twenty bone jamming minutes later, I alight, buy my patron coffee, and stand in his cloud of exhaust in another nameless town gathering the strings of variables to solve my future.

Today is lucky! Only one bus strikes out to the Pan American highway that I board and learn by watching ex-pats enter and descend for hours that myriad surfer beaches ring the peninsula, but to reach them takes days. Later, in a bottleneck bus terminal at Santa Cruz, I gaze longingly across the waiting room at an earth mamma with rainbow eyes and pigtails snaking over a flute. She stops under my stare, walks over, and by request explains the ex-patriot scene in Costa Rica. Thousands of Americans flock the Pacific beaches for the good waves and vibes. The first thing she does each morning is go online to check the surf. The beach is 50 yards away. Some ex-pats work as waiters or in other services that tip, while others live off pensions or trusts. The key is that every 90 days in continuum the surfers, divers and retirees board a bus to Nicaragua, get the requisite passport exit stamp, and return a day later to the beach. Each ex-pat, in essence, pays $100 four times a year to live legally in Costa Rica, and earth momma is on her third passport. I blow a kiss, she toots a high note, and our buses depart in opposite directions through the wisdom of sampling lifestyles, and my Shangri-La is not bohemia but on the roll.

The bus angles up the country volcanic spine passing perfect active cones, and I hitch a ride with a Montana contractor putting the final touches on an arboreal Green Village. He makes the dream of living in a tree house come true. Occupancies are available. Ecologically designed high up in a rain forest, you too can live like an ape, ride a zip-line to meet your friends for evening cocktails, and wake up with the birds.

I pass toward the Caribbean at Los Chiles and stand on the steaming asphalt at once thumbing rides, haggling with a cabbie, and waiting for a bus to the next country. An angular Tico steers my elbow down a dirt lane to a swampy river, and asks what I think of Costa Rica.

I opine that the nation’s varied terrain- beaches, volcanoes, jungles, highlands- is one of the most scenic on the globe, and its citizens are among the most unsavory in Latin America for two reasons: the ex-pat invasion and the rise of foolish education. Of all Central American nations this is the most settled by gringos and, with a literacy rate of 96%, is by far the most educated. I’m a poor student sitting at the citizens’ feet for weeks for scraps of wisdom, but finding none have revised an original tenet as a fired schoolteacher that education will save the world to it must be a prudent education. There are exceptions, I finalize, but most of your spoiled countrymen have heads full of recorded facts to shake as dust rags.

He smiles broadly and points down to a canoe, ‘Get in, this is going to Nicaragua.’


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