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La Pura Vida de Costa Rica

By David Gee, El señor del norte

The sun played well its roll today. It changed a cold desert into a less cold but glowing desert at sunrise. It back-lit the Organ Mountains. Then it warmed the desert floor and inched it’s way into dark corners and brightened them and warmed them. The day grew warmer and brighter with each passing hour.

At mid day it was a delight to have lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Alone, yet not really alone, lunch was leisurely and interesting. People came and went. Some spoke, others not. Some looked terribly busy. I wondered how their day was going.

Rush hour ushered in what could tentatively be called a hot afternoon.

By sundown all was warm. The white patches of cloud which drifted into the valley late in the afternoon were being underscored with heavy dark rain clouds. I doubt there was water in them. They just looked threatening.

Shadows grew long and stretched endlessly up the gentle slopes away from the Casitas and towards the Organs. Suddenly a puff of air. . . . and it was cool. How fickle the sun made the breeze. I made some hot tea and sat in my chair on the porch to watch the Organs change colors. I drifted off…..

The roar of the single engine prop plane roused me. I was two seats behind the pilot in the single row of seats. The double seats were across the isle. Only some of the seats were occupied. My head bumped against the Plexiglas window as I strained to pick out a landmark. We had turned north and east away from the sea. Only mountains were on the horizon now. My ears popped. We were still climbing. We had to go over those mountains before dropping back down and into San Jose. Roads ran like veins through the dense rain forest below. Now and then a cleared area would expose a red tiled roof and close by would be signs of something planted and harvested. I had no idea what it might be.

I did not fall asleep. I just fell into an awakened trance. It was the constant sound of the engine, the feeling of the vibrating plane, my body after so long in the tropical environment below was finally discovering what cool air felt like. I took in a very long deep breath, exhaled slowly and sighed. Life was good.

The Organ Mountains vanished. Night had engulfed them. It was almost chilly. What was left of the tea was cold. I drained the cup and walked through my darkened condo to leave the cup with the other dirty dishes in the kitchen. Night was here.

A day was ending. Soon there would be sleep and I would go somewhere else just as strange yet just as exciting.

Where will this all end I wondered. Will I continue to feel the cool desert, the hot jungle, the infinite quiet of the outback, salt spray on my face as the boat skips from wave to wave across the Rio Plata. What is next? Can life be simply a constant flow of new experiences like this? What if I sat down and stopped? What if I wrote down all these things I have experienced and felt; those things that now flash across my mind urging me to keep on keeping on. What then? Is it better to pause and take note or to speed ahead and embrace life while it is here for the taking? The question lingered. It turned over restlessly in my mind as the plane began it’s descent into San Jose. San Jose? What can I say about San Jose? It is way too large, way too much a mixed bag of everything for me to even have an opinion. I thought about that as the plane lurched in a sudden side wind pointing us to other than the runway. I ventured a guess. San Jose was beautiful. Why not? Had I seen anything in Costa Rica which was not beautiful? Nope. It’s all good, some’s better. The wheels screeched removing another quarter inch of rubber from the smooth appearing tires. I could feel the brakes tugging against the struts. The prop reversed and we slowed enough to glide gently into the Sansa terminal. What elegance I thought. I loved this plane. I love this airline. It represented everything that was real in life. There were real pilots at the controls. I could see them, hear them, watch them. There were real instruments for them to push, pull and rotate. And when they were bored they barely touched that steering control much like a man holding loose reins to a horse heading for the barn. I am sure the plane knew how to fly itself but the presence of a pilot and copilot was necessary to satisfy nervous passengers. There were a couple on this flight. I could tell by their ashen faces and fingers which dug into the seats every time the plane dropped a few feet unexpectedly.

As I walked the short distance to the terminal my mind again separated from my body.

New Mexico slid back into my consciousness. That’s a state I call home. Well, kind of.

My real home is in Washington state but they have bad things there. They have a time of the year (every year from forever to forever) when the sun vanishes, the lake freezes and white stuff falls out of the sky. It’s beautiful…. in pictures. I can remember my fingers sticking to frozen door handles, glasses left on the dash board engraving frozen rings around my eyes when I put them on before warming them. I can remember not being able to see the road ahead of me….. only drifts of white blowing snow. I shivered as I got in line at baggage claim. Perspiration began rolling down my cheeks. I was hot again. Life offers choices. I perspired happily. I probably even had a smile on my face. From San Jose it was just a few less-than-exciting hours to New Mexico. The door swung open freely welcoming me. I set the big bag down in the middle of the living room and pushed the door closed with my foot. Then I sat down. Then I didn’t move. Then I didn’t unpack. Then I didn’t put anything away. I just sat there.

Coming down the hill to Quepos from Manuel Antonio the bus turns and heads north by the church. Being new and a slow learner I always jumped up and pulled the rope or pushed the button to tell the driver I wanted off. But that was never necessary. Someone else always got off there and someone else always pulled the rope or pushed the button. I am sure that I didn’t have to. The driver was pre-programmed to stop there anyway. But I guess it gave me a sense of importance. Hey, I was now part of the culture. I wore my backpack loaded with a small computer and too many reference books in Spanish…. a dictionary, a book on verb conjugations and who knows what else. But I still had trouble ordering an Imperial at the place near the beach. After a month I got it down pat but more probably the bartender just quickly learned what this old guy liked. It was hot from the bus stop to my home. I call it my home but it wasn’t really my home. It was where I live in Costa Rica….. with a wonderful family with infinite patience. So be it. As I started to say before I interrupted myself, it was hot from the bus stop to home. Every part of me perspired. I think even my eyeballs perspired. I watched the sidewalk move towards me as I ambled down the un-named street. Streets don’t have names in Quepos. At least I never detected any. My address was a paragraph describing everything from the proximity to the church to the color of the house. Now how can you not love that? The sidewalks along my un-named street encouraged me to watch where my feet were going. This allowed me to discover things I would never have otherwise discovered. I can tell you where the sidewalk ends and it is more prudent to walk in the street. I can reconstruct the construction of the sidewalk in my mind visualizing why they poured what, where and when. A whole story seeded and grew in my mind. Some people on this street were probably relatives, I thought, and others, well friendly but not related. At my house on this day in Quepos the gate was unlocked.

I didn’t have to use my key or yell for anyone. Wow, what a place. What a road.

What a sidewalk. What a wonderful place to walk when there is no sidewalk.

What heat. What an aroma wafting from kitchens where there was chopping and slicing for dinner. What beautiful sounds from the vibrant voices of young children yelling to one another about the days events. And the call of the street vendors welded it all together in a colorful, awe inspiring animated mosaic.

These were my thoughts as I stirred in my chair realizing I was back in New Mexico.

The rest of the world is still out there. Colombia hasn’t hosted me yet; nor Peru nor Uruguay. But Costa Rica needs me, I said to myself. And I need Costa Rica.

Don’t unpack everything yet. Just take out a few things. I sat and allowed my mind to transport me gently about the town, up the hill, along the beach. From the second floor of my school I saw the vast expanse of the ocean kissing the shore line near the park. I felt an afternoon breeze. I saw a cloud form and build itself into a monument tinged blue and gold.

A new word I learned flowed easily from my lips and I spoke it aloud to myself….. tranquilo, David…..tranquilo.

And so these are the musing of an old traveler enchanted with the people and la pura vida de Costa Rica. Guess what…. I’m coming back.


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