Costa Rica in the Rain

It’s spring in Costa Rica, and there’s a reason they call it the wet season. It’s been raining almost non-stop for two days. Driving, reverberating downpours. Monsoon-like washings that seem to cleanse the soul as much as the air. I look out at the sea and watch it roil, brown sand billowing up with each crest of wave.

This is a beautiful country. I am in Guanacaste, on the north Pacific coast, and while it’s lush and green now, by February it will be hot, dry and dusty. In almost every case, the only way to get anywhere is to go through San Jose, the capital in the middle of the country. All roads lead from there to every place else for the most part. As a consequence, most travelers fly to and from the major tourist areas through San Jose.

When I arrived, I took a bus from San Jose to Playa Langosta, where I am staying, a six-hour drive. It was a great way to see the countryside. Major roads are paved, for the most part. But many are dirt (or mud) and there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to pave them. In Tamarindo, the small pueblo nearby, the road alternates between dirt and broken pavement, and the dirt road features great maws of pot holes scattered with rocks. Still, the small taxis (mostly some kind of tiny Toyota) blast through at breakneck speed.

Everyone drives all over the road, edging out into traffic without regard for oncoming cars, beeping horns that no one seems to pay any attention to. Small dogs, thin, brown or black, with tall ears and long tails, run freely across the roads and loll in the front yards of tiny haciendas painted bright colors. Horses and cattle graze on the sides of the road between the pavement and the fences, oblivious to traffic.

“In my country, the horses are on the other side of the fence,” I told Olman, my driver, and he laughed.

People are warm and generous. Every taxi driver asks (in varying degrees of comprehensible Ingles) how many children I have and how old they are. Where I am from. How long I am here. Where I’ve been. My Espanol is limited, but somehow we manage to communicate. Olman speaks exceptional Ingles, so when we went to Arenal Volcano, in central Cosa Rica, I got a two-day lesson in Espanol.

Como se dice, What is the name of this town?” I asked.

Como se llama, a qui? (How do you call this place?) o Cuantos el nombre esta pueblo? (What is the name of this town?)”

"Como se dice, I went to the Arenal Volcano and was lucky. I saw lots of animals?”

“Yo fue volcan Arenal y tuve mucho suerte. Puede ver mucho animales.”

“Okay, si. Gracias.”

And so it went all the way over and back.

Except for the cook and maid (neither of whom speak more than a few words of Ingles), I’ve been alone for the past five days and I’m feeling a little homesick. Last night I Skyped with my friend, Leah, who is staying at my house, and got to see my dog, Chevella. That cheered me up.

I head home in just eight days, and the best news is my memoir is almost complete. It was the reason I came to Central America, and finishing it feels like reaching a huge milestone after working on it for almost five years, mostly in fits and starts. In December, I graduate from Antioch University, Los Angeles, with a master of fine art degree in creative writing. After all that’s happened since 2005, the past two years seem like a flickering light, a reverie, a bright sliver of reassurance that life can be good, it can be hopeful, indeed, joyful.

The Visitor

It is my third day in Costa Rica, and I have just arrived at my cousin’s beautiful home on the ocean. I am enjoying the veranda with the million-dollar view, and the cook has brought me cheese and crackers.

Then something catches my eye under the table, and suddenly I’m jumping up from my chair and hopping around from one foot to the other and making little squealing sounds. He hesitates, then turns and retreats to the ledge above. He is almost three feet long, this beautiful iquana. Scaly and in varying shades of green and gray, there is almost an iridescence to his skin. His eyes roll around and fix on me. I calm down, then consider him. I can anthropomorphize any creature. So I decide he’s a youngster, probably in his teens, as iguanas go. He’s a moocher. Someone here has offered bits of crackers or cheese before. And he has been drawn by the scent of mine. Of course he thinks I will be as generous. Claro!

I sit down, and he comes back down the wall and approaches once again under the table. It is a little too close for comfort, so I jump up once again, and this time I go to find Eider, the cook. Eider comes out to the veranda, takes the empty green plastic bag from the trash and shoos the iguana back toward the wall, whacking away at it until the poor creature races toward the garden, hissing at Eider all the way, then dives into the flora. Suddenly I feel bad. Wish he would come back. But I spend the rest of the evening on the veranda alone.

The next day I am reading, sunk deeper into my book. Something catches my eye. It is the iguana, near the bar. He scrambles up the wall and sits on the ledge, watching me, ready to make a fast escape if necessary. I keep reading, and after a while, he settles down on the ledge in the sun, facing out toward the ocean. He stays there even when I get up to go inside. A couple of hours later, I return with my book, and my camera. I want to shoot him. He rises up on his haunches as I settle down, then, just as I turn my camera on him, skitters away into the garden. I do not see him again that afternoon.

Two days later, he is back, on the ledge soaking up the warmth from the October sun. I sneak up with my camera, and he puffs up as if to hiss. Cautiously he dips down to the rock, where he blends in so well I doubt my camera will find him. I try, though, and come away with an image of rock-blended iguana. He doesn’t like me. I will have to work hard to make friends again. Perhaps feed him a bit of my lunch - tomorrow. I name him Fred.