Lost My Passport
A collection of travel stories
Friday, November 28, 2003
The sky was gray and pouring rain as I walked through the crowded clustered streets of San Jose. I walked with my red bag strapped across my shoulders through the sidewalks, doing my best to avoid the merchandise huts on each corner and praying that I might miss the whaling onslaught of taxis that eagerly wait to reduce every passing roadside traveler to a muddled clump on the road. Here in Costa Rica where most believe it is your own responsibility not to get hit, the drivers see it a different way; “One point for Ticos, two points for Gringos.”
The bus station for Puerto Jerminez is a small opening alongside a trail of unassuming stores and auto shops just a few streets down from the Coca Cola station. At first glance you would walk across it and not even know it was there, as I did when purchasing my ticket the day before. A huge green roll up door unveils a dark waiting room with a few rows of chairs and ticket cashier in the dark black corner. Inside was a collection of women and men, mostly Ticos, and a bunch of guys trying to sell us whatever they might of happened to of found the day before.
When you pull out of San Jose and into the countryside of Costa Rica, you get the feeling that you are leaving one country and entering another. San Jose is big and dirty, and functions under the presumption of being a major city, though I consider it more of a giant mall with homeless people. The bus turns down the Pan American Highway that begins in Texas and runs through the bottom of Panama as the scenery begins to change. You pass through green farmland, mountains that reach up into the clouds as the temperature suddenly drops 15 degrees, towards the south the eye can get lost in a rolling panorama of hills and mountains, valleys and steep ridges that drop 100 feet from the edge of the road.
It was still raining when we arrived that night. The moon was hidden and there were only the glares of scattered lights hanging from Palm trees to know that there was civilization. The dangling light bulbs led to an inn overlooking the Osa Peninsula. A sweet woman with tree teeth smiled at me as I asked for a room. Moments later I was unconscious.
In the morning I woke up early to find the Escondido Treks office, and the mysterious Tom Boylan, owner of the tour company. The office was located in the back of the Restaurant Carolina, and after a few minutes of walking through the town and asking the locals I had found it. The door was locked when I arrived. After a wide smile and my best attempt at Spanish, the kind woman who owned to restaurant let me use the back phone to call.
It rang a few times before I heard Tom on the other end, “Right on man,” he said to me, “don’t move, I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
Ten minutes he arrived. Tom Boylan, with his long brown hair shaggy beard, not necessarily a hippie beard that you might see at a dead show and wonder how many insects have made their home in it’s locks but more of 3 inch whiskers that covered the bottom half of his face. He was a tall guy, standing about 6 feet tall, with these big brown eyes and permanent grin that looked as if he had just stopped laughing from a joke.
“Welcome dude,” he said as I shook his hand.
I grabbed my pack and threw it in the back of the pick up truck while we drove to the head quarters. I remember how there was a Bob Marley record playing as we drove through cow fields and picket fences. There were local men and kids riding bikes through the loose gravel street on old bicycles and in the cool gray drizzle of morning.
“Dude, it’s great that you are going to be here. I’m telling you that you are going to work hard and have a great time. We thought that you were coming a week later.” The music was loud and Tom was screaming as we drove over a hill as he lit up a joint. “First question I have is, do you smoke dope?”
I told him that I didn’t, “Well your boss does,” he replied as he ripped a hit and blew it out the window.
It was 7:00 in the morning.
I explained that my plans had changed around and that I would spend the week there before coming back to San Jose.
“No problem,” he said as he continued too smoke his joint and bounce his head to the music, “Like I said, you’ll like it here and we have a place for you to stay. It’s in the finishing stages but it’s pretty wild. You’ll see when we get there.”
We took a right turn off of a road surrounded by cow fields to the east and forest to the west. The sign at the corner was white and read, “Escondido Treks,” in giant blue signs. “What does Escondido Treks mean?” I asked as we rounded the turn.
“Hidden Trail,” he said. The car stopped at an opening and we stepped out. We stood in a 10 square acre area.
“These here are pepa trees,” he said pointing to about 6 trees with leaves that spread out like palm trees and held green bushels of green coconuts. “The juice in these are the best source of electrolytes in nature. In many of the hospitals they hook patients up to pepa juice when they run out of IV fluid. You guys are free to take as many as you want. If it’s the juice that you need, pick the little ones, if it’s the meat than cut down the bigger ones.”
We moved through what I was now beginning to realize were the gardens. “Like I said, this reservation is still in it’s first trimester, it is going to take me 6 to 8 years to get things the way I want them, but so far I am pleased.”
We came to a green bush. “We can’t grow garlic in the environment here, but garlic bush is just as good, you can use these leaves if you are going to cook. They are great with pasta and a bit of olive oil.” I picked one of the leaves and smelled them.
We continued through the grounds, Tom pointing out the trees, picking a leaf, and telling me their names in Latin. He spoke with his arms and his hands, waving them through the sky as he described the trees and bushes. For a second I wondered if this guy who grew up in Ohio was slightly mad. With wild eyes and animated tones he took me through every inch of every acre. There was the spot where he was going to plant a row of pineapple bushes, but they only yield one pineapple per year. Might there be a better use of the land? Over in the other corner was a bush whose leaves they use to make Channel No 5. There, behind the grounds keeper’s house were the seedlings of some exotic timber, I’d have to make sure I didn’t accidentally step on them.
At the end of the tour we came up to a 6 by 6 tree fort suspended in the air by four beams. “And this is your place dude.” He said. “Like I said, it’s still in it’s planning stages, but once my carpenter gets through with it, that will be the choice pad in the gardens.” It was a tree house suspended 10 feet in the air by wooden support beams. There was a small opening to the side that I would access by ladder to a 6 foot square area that would be home.
I told him I would be fine there, but in truth I didn’t know what to think. I was in the middle of nowhere, nowhere. The only trace of a town was about two miles away and it consisted only of a restaurant with a few beat up inns and a general store. To top all of this it wasn’t even 8:30 and my boss was high. Had this been happening to someone else, I would have found the entire thing hysterical, but it wasn’t.
“Right on,” were his words as he went around to the truck and threw a tent, sleeping board, and inflatable mattress at me. “This is all that you’ll need. Make sure that you keep the mosquito net up at night, those bastards love it when you go to sleep, and every once in a while someone comes down with Malaria in these parts.”
I caught the bags in my arms and looked up at my new house. It was more of a box than a home. I climbed up the ladder and tossed in the sleeping bag as a cloud of saw dust arose from it’s skid marks.
“Listen man, take some time to set up your space, every man needs his space,” Tom shouted from below, “It’s Sunday and we’ve taken the day off, so if you could fill up those germination bags with soil that can be your work for the day. I have some things I need to check up on over in the rain forest reservation, but I’ll drop by later to see that everything is OK.”
“One quick question,” I yelled as he closed the truck door and lit up another joint.
“How big is the reservation?”
“400 acres, but you’ll see it tomorrow morning. We start work at 6:00 am. See you later.”
With that he drove away and I looked at the sawdust laden 6 feet before where I would live for the next week.
The most significant event of that day came when I called a 4 year old boy a little piece of shit for the first time. It happened as I stood filling up the germination bags with soil beside the groundskeeper’s house. About 5 minutes into the job he stuck his head out from around the corner. He had this head of wild curly black hair with big lips and big eyes that led you to suspect that he might of just set something on fire.
He had two sticks in his hand when he walked out the door of the shack where he and his parents lived. “Aloha,” I said as he slowly walked towards me swishing the sticks through the air like a 3 foot ninja.
He didn’t reply.
“Oh, I get it.” I said with a smile, “you are a samurai. OK, I’m scared now, don’t get too close.”
He kept silent and slowly inched closer to me. He stayed there for a minute, 5 feet away, still without speaking a word the entire time. I thought that maybe the kid was deaf and looked down to fill a bag. That was when I felt a stick crack against the side of my right eye. I looked up in disbelief.
“You little piece of shit,” I said as a grabbed his other stick and threw it into the woods and scolded him. The ninja ran into his house and for the rest of the week he would give me that same grin whenever I saw him.
A few hours later I met the two girls who would be my fellow volunteers for the week. They shared the cabin around the back of the gardens.
The first was a Canadian named Candice. There are Canadians all over this country, more than I have ever met in one place in my life. Candice was short, about 5’4, with black hair that came down to her neck and thick black glasses. She was 27 years old, and when I mentioned that I was from the states replied that she has always wanted to visit the US, but isn’t allowed into the country for 7 years. I asked why, and 15 minutes later had my answer.
For the past 5 years Candice had worked as a Vancouver telephone operator. Those jobs are tough to come by, but she has knack for being at the right place at the right time. I wasn’t to get the wrong idea though, she wasn’t really a telephone operator, but a budding rock star who paid the bills by giving people telephone numbers. The benefits were good and it beat waiting tables. Her band, “The Atoms,” (chosen because music, just like atomic particles, are the building blocks of life), were a fixture on the Vancouver rock scene, Candice and her roommate Cinnamon were the Lennon/McCartney song writing team of the group.
“When we got together music flowed,” she assured me. Candice played the bass, Cinnamon sang and played the guitar.
“It was all about the music,” she said, “Every night we played, the music took over.” Candice and her roommate-songwriting pal grew tired of working and decided that if they grew a few pounds of dope, they would be able to devote themselves to the music full time.
They set the plan into full swing. The basement of their rental house was converted into a Cannabis garden. They lined the ceiling with growing lights, covered the windows in black, cut down on other appliances to balance the electric bills, and took their shoes off when coming from out side to avoid bringing in microscopic bugs.
“It was a professional operation,” she recalled as a smile etched it’s way across her face.
A few months later everything had gone as planned, the plants were huge and they were about to harvest. She estimated that they had 8 pounds ready to sell by the time they were stormed by the police. The Atoms were rehearsing a new song downstairs when the Canadian DEA burst through the front door with a ramming log, bulletproof vests, and semi-automatic weapons. Candice still had her Bass strapped across the shoulder when they pulled her away in cuffs and read her rights.
“I document my life in cartoons,” Candice said as she handed me a picture. “This one is about the arrest,” she said. The cartoon was a Doonsbury style picture of two girls holding on to jail bars, the words “the music must continue...” were written along the bottom.
I had done my best to keep a balanced reaction through most of the story, but the line about the music caused a hint of laughter to slip. The arrest for “production with the intention of sale,” marked the end of the show for the Atoms. The drugs were confiscated, and 6 months later she was given some community service and forbidden to enter the United States.
The arrest broke up the band, Cinnamon began a crank habit. The bottom fell out in every way. Candice had to get away from it all and had been teaching in Honduras for the past 7 months before coming down to Costa Rica on vacation.
“The arrest made me put myself in the lap of fate,” she said. “I had tried to do everything my own way. I never went to college, I was too cool for that, then I thought that I could get around work by selling drugs. The entire thing was a bust. When I finished my community service I told myself that I would come to Central American and let fate take me where it might lead.”
The second was a quiet vegetarian from Holland named Babbs. She could answer just about any question with a collection of 3 to 5 word phrases.
“Babbs?” I said, “What does it say on your birth certificate?”
“Like I said....Babbs...BABBS....It’s no nickname.” Babbs was tall and lean, with a long neck and small head that gave her a slight resemblance to an Ostrage. She worked digging up Roman Pottery on an archeological crew and was down here on a three month break. She was a nice girl with a good heart.
Babbs hated work and as we were in the fields that week she would suddenly turn to me and say things like, “I will not work hard now.....Yesterday I worked too hard....I was tired all day...I am only here for the animals....I like the animals.” She loved animals and had to pet every stray that would run up to her in the street.
I would warn her that she was bound to contract some obscure worm that would live beneath the surface of her skin and hatch babies. “You New Yorkers...always worried about catching diseases,” she would reply.
In the hot hours we spent cutting through the rain forest she would sometimes put down her machete and stand on a fallen log to gaze at an obscure bird. I would joke that her Germanic tribesmen ancestors could never have sacked Rome if they had fought with the same vigor that Babbs attacked the brush. Babbs didn’t care about the Romans though, she would remind me that she was only here for the animals.
I didn’t see Tom Boylan again until later that night. He pulled up in his pick up truck as Candice was telling me that she hopes one day the Atoms might get back together for a Vancouver reunion show.
“Hey man,” he said as he walked in the door. He used the word man whenever he could. “I need you to give me a hand with those plants you soiled this afternoon. We’re going to plant them over in the reservation. I’ll show you around while we’re there.”
We climbed into the pick up truck and down the dirt path that served as our driveway back through the cow fields. The sun had set and it was beginning to get dark as we pulled off into a brush road that had been cut into the forest.
“This is my paradise man, this is my paradise.” he said as we began. “400 acres, I bought it last year, when I get through with this place it will be the greatest ecotourism spot on the Osa Peninsula. It’s still in the planning stages, and for now we have our hands full just clearing out trails. In 6 or 7 years when I get everything exactly as I want it, it will be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.”
The truck stopped and we walked outside where a 2 acre area had been cleared. “This is my base garden,” he began, “from this central spot my men have already cut about 6 kilometers of trails, you and the others will be expanding them while you’re here.”
He took out another joint from his pocket and lit it up. “You’re sure that you don’t want some man?” he said as he held this huge smoking twig out and coughed. I told him that I was fine.
We walked around to the back of the truck and began to unload the plants and shovels. He explained that what we were planting would be some sort of rare endangered tree and to space them around the corners and the middle.
He asked me what I was up to, why I was out here, and I how long I would stay. I replied with an answer I’ve repeated so many times to so many people in this country about going away to Ukraine, the guy being found beneath the bridge, the wire taps, the mail being opened, the prostitutes calling my hotel room the last night, returning home to the states, working behind a desk for a few months beside a balding women, taking off across the States and Thailand on a sordid and tragic mission to see a college girlfriend, returning home once again, deciding to teach, and heading out to Costa Rica until September.
“I follow you, I follow you,” He replied as he took the last hits off of his joint.
As the sky turned dark and the moon lit up the stars we stood there planting these exotic trees whose names I could not even pronounce. Tom told me of his life. He went to college at Kent State and liked it so much he studied there for 7 and a half years. Originally he had studied to be a wood shop teacher, but in his last semester he took a glass blowing class and it changed everything. After the first week blowing glass, he decided that he didn’t want to do anything else and switched his major on the spot.
For the next 3 years he studied glassblowing and worked in the campus studios. In the school facilities he would make glass pieces and take them out to trade and sell at the Grateful Dead shows. During those years he had gone to 150 shows and clamed that he financed the first plots of land he had bought from pipe sales.
In the middle of his speech a family of monkeys began to holler at us from a tree above. They were medium sized, the adults about 3 feed tall. Some had babies hanging from their arms. They hung in the limbs of a huge fig tree that was beside us.
“Those are Howler Monkeys,” he said, “Most of the monkeys in the park haven’t had much exposure to humans before. They won’t attack, so there is no need to worry. But be sure not to make direct eye contact with them. The monkeys interpret eye contact as a sign of aggression. Also, scratch your arms and chest whenever you see them too, they take that as a sign of ease. Do that and they won’t become aggressive.”
I looked over at Tom and saw that he was scratching his chest and arms, moving his glare around the space of the monkeys, but not stopping long enough to look at any one of them specifically. In response the monkeys began to scratch themselves and stopped their yelling. Suddenly the entire thing seemed hysterical, but there wasn’t another soul there to share the observation and I was able to keep the laughter to myself. I was standing in the jungle on a peninsula just north of Panama. Beside me was this crazy hippie scratching himself to pacify monkeys, and there they were actually communicating with each other!
Once it was dark and the last trees had been planted we drove back to the gardens and I spent my first night in the tree fort. It was strange from the first moment I lay my head down on a clump of shirts that would serve as my pillow for the week. In the tropical night a chorus of barking, chirping and howling sounds rose from the vast dark forest and into my little tree house. I did get a few hours of sleep before the horses arrived.
Sometime around 3:00 in the morning I lifted my head up to the sound of hoofs and blowing noises coming from below. I peered out a crack in the sideboards and looked down at two horses eating the bushes around the cabin. They ran away once I threw my toothpaste at them, but some animal must have liked Crest because the tube was gone when I went to brush my teeth the next morning.
Tom was outside at 5:30 the next day. “Let’s go troops” he yelled on the top of his lungs from the truck and honked the horn. The sky was gray and there was still the faint trace of the moon as I climbed down the ladder and rubbed my eyes. I threw on a pair of paints, a shirt, my boots and climbed into the back of the truck with the two other girls.
There were two Costa Rican workers already in the truck when I sat down. “My name is Pedro,” the one the left said. He looked about 26 years old, and was missing his front tooth. “This is my brother Carlos.” Carlos nodded and smiled, he had all of his teeth. “Carlos no speak much English but if he did, he would say that it is nice to meet you and he is glad you are all out here to help us.”
I nodded. It was so early, barely the first light of day and I have never been much of a morning person. I shook both of their hands and felt the motor start. On the way over to the reservation I stuck my head around and yelled over to Tom.
“Yeah man,” he said. He had just lit up a joint.
“I was wondering if you had any horses on the land that you might have forgotten to mention.”
“No, man. No horses.”
“I only ask because two horses came over to the lodge and were eating the bushes yesterday.”
“I woke up last night to the sound of hoofs and when I looked outside I saw two horses feeding on the bushes. I figured that they might be yours, that you might do horse tours or something.”
“I’ll fucking shoot those things if they are eating my bushes,” he yelled as a burst of smoke flowed out the drivers window. “I’ll kill them I swear, if they are chewing on my plants man. I’m telling you that if I find one bush destroyed I’ll turn them into glue and shoe polish.”
I didn’t reply and the horses didn’t come up until a few days later.
Tom dropped us at the gates and for the next 5 hours we sweat. We began at the garden clearing and hiked a few kilometers into the thick. Carlos led the way with bag full of machetes and shovels slung over his shoulder and the rest of us followed in line. At a random point he stopped, dropped his bag and in Spanish told his brother that we would begin clearing. The two of them each took hold of a machete and began to slice into the trees and bushes. With each stroke a trunk the size of my wrist or heap of bushes would fly into the air and onto the ground. The girls and I watched as they worked and began to pull out the stumps and weeds as they moved along.
This was the pace of the morning. The brothers cut, we cleaned up the mess. Every half an hour they would stop for a break and we would all sit down for a few moments.
Pedro had hundreds of questions for me about the United States. He told me that two years ago he had dated a tourist from Tennessee and one day he wished to travel there and visit her. He said that all of the Costa Rican men dreamed of dating American women, getting married, and moving to America.
I tried to deflect his questions as best I could, but with each glance, he would only ask more direct ones. When he asked me how much money it costs per day to travel in America I tried to avoid giving him a number and simply said that it depends, the cities are more expensive than the country, the East and West coasts were more expensive than the mid west. He then asked how much it would cost in Tennessee. I said at least 50 dollars a day. He milled this over. Next he asked about airfares; how much would it cost for him to get a round trip ticket from Costa Rica to the United States. I said that it depended on the time of the year, the airline, and the type of ticket he was getting. He milled this over as well and then asked me what the cheapest ticket he could get might cost. I said perhaps 400 dollars. His face dropped.
Later that night Candice told me that they each earn 8 US Dollars a day.
In the afternoons we would come back to the garden, change out of our dirty, sweaty clothes and begin the rest of the day. After a shower I would cut down a Pepa from the tree and sit down for a mid afternoon drink.
Tom would sometimes come around to smoke his afternoon joint, and begin a conversation that usually ended in something having to do with his years on the Grateful Dead circuit. If he loved to use the word “man,” with us, he loved the word, “cats,” when referring to anyone associated with the Dead even more.
There was the “crazy cat,” who made thousands of dollars a week posing as a veggie egg roll vendor while moving thousands of dollars of ecstasy through the back door and eventually did a few years in jail after getting busted by the feds.
There was “the wild cat,” who was in among the inner circle of some mystical Indian guru in the 60’s and hung out with the Beatles during the years they flirted with Hinduism.
Finally there was Bob Weir, “the coolest cat of all,” who Tom claimed to have met and guided when Weir and some friends had vacationed in Costa Rica a few years ago. The guy loved to talk almost as much as he loved to smoke dope, and he was always doing one or the other, though usually both.
At the edge of the property was a shed of new kayaks and we had full reign of the place in exchange for our work. At 3:30 I would paddle out into the ocean with my two fellow volunteers to a beach across the other side of the bay. We would bring fishing rods and cast out into the outgoing tide from a desolate point at the edge of the sea in the hope of bringing in that huge catch for dinner. When the sun began to set we would paddle back beneath an orange and purple sky while schools of dolphins jumped through the air all around us.
The nights were quiet and still. Every few days we would walk into town for a meal at the local restaurant, but most of the time we would cook up some rice or pasta with vegetables on a gas stove that was set up in the girls cabin.
There was an old beaten up red guitar there that served as our entertainment for the night. In the quiet stillness of the country darkness, we lit candles all around the cabin while Candice and I traded guitar songs. I would show her my favorite Bob Dylan and Van Morrison tunes and she would teach me some of the Atom’s most well known classics. She would open up with lines like, “the fans used to love this one,” as she introduced a new song.
When we weren’t playing guitar, conversation would drift into reflections of the day. Of how hot the sun beamed down just before we walked off the job, or some strange bird Babbs had spotted while we were working, of how long Carlos could go without speaking a word, and finally of our strange guide through this all- Tom Boylan.
Candice would joke around and call him Mr. god. She commented on how he crazy he looked as he paced through the land and explained where he would cut, where he would build, what he would build, what he would plant and how fantastic it all would be once the work was finished. She thought that he might be wanted from some sort of crime in the states and could be here to avoid arrest. She pondered the nature of possible crime and admitted that she couldn’t envision anything violent, but perhaps drugs or alimony money. Candice was convinced that Central America was infested with Americans and Canadians in exile for tax or fiscal obligations.
Babbs, for the most part was silent. She would interject with an occasional phrase like, “he is a strange man.Very odd I think.” and then she’d turn her attention to a little stray dog that had turned their cabin into it’s home.
As for myself, I wasn’t sure. He was strange, but I saw more than a simple hippie who was out for a good time. I mean, if the only thing he really wanted was to be stoned all the time, that is pretty easy to do in the US; I had gone to college with plenty who had mastered this feat and none of them needed to transplant themselves into the jungle. I did think that the attempt to build a place where he set the rules, where his virtues were upheld (though I didn’t know what these might be) and his vices (I did have a hint of these) were appreciated, could be behind his motivation, but I wasn’t sure and kept my thoughts to myself.
For the first half of the week, the melody of the days followed the same rhythm. Tom Boylan honking his horn with the break of day, usually yelling out “have a nice walk to the office,” from his fishbowled truck as we walked out into the thick, silent Carlos carrying the tools on his shoulder, and toothless Pedro picking my brain for alternative routes to the US. Might he be able to book passage on a freight train? How much were busses? Did I know anyone who had ever hitchhiked from New York to Tennessee? What is there to do in Tennessee? I tried to help him the best I could but most of my answers left him more confused than he was to begin with. In the in the final hours of day we continued our attempt to reel in the big catch, but we never got a single hit and once while casting I imagined that beneath the surface of the sea there were hundreds of fish eating popcorn, watching us in laughter.
On my last night at the bio-reservation I was walking back to my tree fort after dinner. It was around 9:00. Candice and I had been up playing Atom’s songs. I was exhausted from the long day in the sun. I had just gotten up my first step of the ladder when I saw Tom Boylan coming around the corner with a gun in his hand.
“What the hell are you doing?” I said to him.
As he came closer a saw that there was a 22 rifle resting on his right shoulder.
“Hey man,” he said. This guy was holding a rifle and calling me man. “Look here.”
He pointed over to his garlic bushes. Practically all of the leaves had been eaten away, and even the branches had been digested by the horses. He then pointed down to the Channel Number 5 bushes that he was so proud of when he had shown them to me a week before. They were in the same shape of the garlic bushes; weathered leaves and gnawed stumps.
“And not only do those bastards eat my bushes, but they shit all over the place too. That’s it. I said that I would shoot them if they ate my bushes, and that’s what I’m going to do. Don’t mind me. I’m just going to sit and spend the night leaning beside this tree. I’ll doze off for a few hours, but I’ll wake when they come back. Then I’ll simply creep up and put a bullet in their head. It’s very simple man. No worries.”
“And you are just going to shoot them when you see them.?” I said.
“Damn right man. I can’t have any damn animal roaming in here, destroying my plants every time it’s hungry. It’s OK. I’ve had to do this once before. Every couple of years there is a stray bunch of horses that wander out here and think they can simply make private property their own Club Med.”
“So, you just shoot them?” I couldn’t get past the fact that this guy had a gun in his hand.
“Right. Listen man, I wish this wasn’t happening right beneath your window, but from the looks of things this is the spot they have been coming to.”
He pointed to the piles of horse dung on the ground.
I bit my lip and cringed my brow.
I said good night and wished him the best of luck killing the horses. It sounded strange to hear the words coming out of my lips, but I didn’t know what else to say. In my tent I rested my head on my clump of clothes and tried to go to bed. I thought of how if that had been my first night here, seeing a bearded armed man pacing through the woods waiting for horses would have made me reconsider my stay. I told myself that it didn’t matter. My bus was departing at 5:00 am from the center of town. Dead horses or live horses, I would be heading north in only a few hours.
When I closed my eyes I could hear an occasional cough, the spark of a lighter, and the sound of leaves being stepped on. I lay there for two hours trying to sleep but I couldn’t. There was an armed man waiting for horses 10 feet away! I couldn’t get the image out of my mind and I climbed down the steps. Why did I? I don’t know. All I know is that I couldn’t stay up there and fall asleep. It was useless.
“Hey man.” Tom said. He was growing drowsy as he sat in a wooden chair leaned up against the side of a Pepa tree.
“Any sightings yet”
“Not a thing,” he replied. “I thought I heard something out there an hour ago, but whatever it is it ran away.”
“If they come, I promise you that I’ll get them. It may not be tonight, may not be tomorrow. But I’ll camp our here for the week and if they show up, than it’s off to the glue factory. To be honest, I don’t know why they would return. The damn beasts didn’t leave much else to eat.”
There were a moment of silence. I didn’t have too much to say. I was only there because I had yet to fall asleep. Tom was only there because he had yet to kill a few horses.
“So is that why you are out here?” I said to him after a few minutes.
“Well, because you can handle these things yourself as they come?”
“I don’t follow you man,” he said.
“What I mean is this- If you were back in Ohio, you couldn’t just shoot some guys dogs because they eat your flowers. But here, if something comes up, you can take things into your hands. You don’t have to call the police, and you can camp out to kill two stray horses without worrying about their owner suing you. Is that why you like it down here? Is that why you came?”
He thought about what I had said and again there was silence.
“Do you really want to know why I am out here man?” He said.
I did. I suppose that everyone deals with what they identify as the flaws in their environment in their own way, and in the process constructs a place that they can exist in. Some buy pets, many drink it away at bars and sing along with the jukebox those songs they know by heart, others buy houses in the country or the ocean to “get away from it all.”
Over the course of the week I had listened to Tom talk about what he envisioned for this huge mass of forest. There would be tree hut platforms, canopy cables connecting the immense trees, campgrounds, nature observatories- he had thought of every idea under the sun. I realized that this guy wasn’t some mere tourist passing through who rented bikes to Americans “roughing it,” for a few days. His plan was nothing short of building his own country!
“I love to watch people.” he said, “ I’m a personable guy, and when I see people I don’t just talk to them, I study them. I try to see what makes them tick. What do they show me? What might they hide? I’ve been studying America since I was in high school, and one day 6 years ago I figured out why the world is so ugly up there.
It’s the way that we approach insignificance. See, deep down we all know that in the span of time, our tenure is barely the blink of an eye. We also know that in the sheer size of the earth and stars, we’re hardly a grain of sand. And for most people this is a petrifying thing to behold. So what do we do? We attempt to remedy the insignificance by beating our fellow man down. We work ourselves to death for money, under the perception that we are better than the guy who has less than we do. Instead of finding contentment in the insignificance, most people try to say, “at least I am better than him.” Except the catch is that, regardless of money or fame, the fact is that in the grand scheme of things I am no more significant than that bum on the street.
When I realized this I promised that I wouldn’t play by the same rules. I know that I am insignificant, and I don’t need to compete and beat down the other guy to feel good about myself. I decided that since I wouldn’t be here for too long, what I would do is leave something beautiful to continue on.
That is where the idea for the bio reservation came from. Costa Rica is still a third world country, but every year it becomes more westernized. If I can’t save this land and make a good use of it while preserving the native species, some company like Nabisco is bound to come in and open up a factory. They will employ all the locals, pay them a fraction of what workers get in America and then write press releases about all they are doing to stimulate the local economy”
I didn’t have a reply. He was more informing me of what he had already decided than asking my opinion on his ideas. Even if he had asked my opinion, I didn’t have anything lined up at the moment. That wasn’t what I had expected to hear.
“These damn horses aren’t going to come out here tonight, Chris.” he said as he stood up. “I’m going to walk over to my place to hit the sack. I’ll try again tomorrow.”
He thanked me for helping out and told me that if I was in the area again I was welcome to drop and use the Kayaks.
“Goodnight man,” were the last words he said as he walked away.
I said, “so long,” and climbed up into my tent for a few hours of rest before the long trip back to the city.
I had no trouble getting to sleep this time around. It probably had something to do with the armed man who had abandoned post for the night, or early hours of the morning. The horses never did come back, and it is probably for their own good. I wouldn’t have put it past Tom Boylan to come running out across the field with rifle in hand after hearing the faint echo of a snarl from across the gardens.
It was only by the stroke of luck that I did get up and out in time. I had miss-set my alarm and by the grace of fortune, awake to see that the bus would be arriving in the center of town in 10 minutes. I threw all of my bags out the window and began to run. It was crazy, and I knew that even if I was fast- which I am not, I would be lucky to make it in time. This combined with the fact that I had a 40 pound bag on my shoulders made my chances even bleaker. I promised myself that if I did not make the bus, I would at least taste it’s fumes as see it’s break lights growing smaller in the darkness. It was still night. The blue sky was full of stars and the full moon was now beginning to drip down across the fields as I ran with the inspiration of a man possessed.
After rounding the Escondido Treks sign I had just gotten half way down the cow pastured lined road when my saving grace arrived in the form of a green jeep. The car was coming out of a small resort called the Crocodile Lodge. What it was doing out at 4:55 in the morning, I have no clue. I didn’t ask. A Costa Rican was driving, and pulled up along side where I was running. “Vas al bus?” he said. I nodded. “Vamos!”
I climbed in the back and held on tight. The bus came a few minutes after the jeep drove away. I never would have made it on my own. I took a seat in the rear and leaned back. As we rolled north through the country, morning broke. I watched through my open window as the full yellow moon sank it’s head beneath the hillside and thought of all that had happened. I thought of the strange week I had spent in that remote corner of the world, and all the people there for one reason or another. I thought of Candice, and her hopes that the Atoms might reunite and make a run for the charts once again. Perhaps I might hear of them one day. I thought of quiet Babbs, the girl who was only there for the animals. And at the end of it all my thoughts took me to Tom Boylan- Mr. god. I thought of how he would stay on that peninsula for the rest of his life, how on it’s banks he would probably succeed in building his paradise, and through the years slowly wage his battle against insignificance, one trail at a time.
11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003